Milwaukee, Wis. – With more than 90 million Americans turning to online dating services in 2009, sites like Match.com and eHarmony are no longer just last resorts for the socially awkward. But the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau warns that as the number of online dating gurus grows, so does the number of scammers seducing unsuspecting consumers out of their money.
In 2009 alone, BBBs nationwide processed 2,660 consumer complaints against dating services, a number that has grown considerably from a mere 824 complaints in 2005 and only 126 in 2004. The nature of these complaints ranges from advertising and customer service to product and delivery issues.
“The online dating industry is growing by millions of dollars annually, and we’ve seen an increase in complaints in the Wisconsin consumer area in the last year,” says Ran Hoth, president/CEO of Wisconsin BBB. “Now, since Valentine’s Day is approaching, consumers should be especially aware of the potential dangers of online dating services.”
Online dating sites generally operate in one of two ways: as a matchmaking service or an online dating forum. Matchmaking sites, such as eHarmony and Match.com, restrict access to other users’ information, but promise to introduce consumers to area singles for a cost that often exceeds thousands of dollars. Online dating forums like Yahoo!Personals and Singlesnet provide a network of users who post information about themselves and have unrestricted access to other users’ profiles.
This Valentine’s Day, if you are interested in joining the 30 percent of Americans who have already used an online dating service, follow these BBB tips to ensure that your search is as safe as possible:
Don’t “fall in love” with advertising
In order to attract a more diverse user network, online dating sites often advertise a more impressive demographic of users than they actually possess. A few phone conversations and credit card charges later, the consumer is left with little to show for his or her efforts. Such was the case in the following complaint to the BBB:
“I signed up for the dating service on September 25, 2007. I was told that they had 2,000 members in the Milwaukee area…in September of 2007 there were only 655 members in the Milwaukee area. Only 414 of these were active and only 267 were men. I paid $5,409.85 for the service.” Cynthia, Milwaukee, WI
Don’t feel rushed
Sales representatives often create a false sense of urgency about their service, often claiming that a special membership discount will no longer be available if a consumer does not sign a contract within the next 24 hours. Disregard these manipulative attempts to force a speedy decision; read carefully before signing any document published by the dating service. Following is a complaint regarding contract issues with an online dating forum:
"Although I did sign, I felt coerced into it, and I was not told about any three day time in which to cancel membership." Roland, West Allis, WI
Protect your privacy
The temptation to post a thorough profile can be enormous, especially with the site’s continuous encouragement to flaunt personal information. But consumers should be wary of distributing too much information to an arbitrary and often undisclosed number of recipients. Forrester Research estimates that as many as 10 percent of users on free online dating sites could be fraudsters, posing as attractive individuals to request money from singles who are often gullible and desperate. This complaint illustrates the danger of fraudulent e-mail trickery within the online dating industry:
“The service and/or its members send out e-mails that appear to break into an e-mail account contact list and send out unauthorized e-mails to the contacts.” Charles, Mequon, WI
Know how to “break up”
Both the matchmaking services and online forums normally require a specific length of membership with a monthly fee, and consumers are often unaware that the contract is typically renewed automatically when it expires. Pay particular notice to the promised methods of exiting a contract and obtaining a refund even before subscribing to the service. Any consumer who is attentive to these details will be more likely to avoid a scenario like this complainant’s:
“I called several times and sent two letters requesting the pro-rated refund and have yet to receive a sufficient response. I am no longer receiving any dates and have yet to receive ANY of the services promised. As a result, I feel that the agency has left me with no further options but to file this report in order to seek resolution to my refund request.” Christine, Milwaukee, WI
For more information or further inquiries, please contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.wisconsin.bbb.org or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), (920)-734-4352 (Appleton) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin).