Federal officials are suing Match.com's owner for allegedly tricking customers into signing up for paid subscriptions to the popular dating website and then keeping them as subscribers through "deceptive" cancellation policies.
According to a press release from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Match Group, the company that owns a number of dating websites and apps, sent Match.com users fake "love interest ads" to entice them to subscribe to the service.
Users can create a Match.com account for free and are allowed to browse other profiles, but only those with paid subscriptions are able to see the profiles that liked or favorited them on the website or read the messages they receive. (The subscription cost varies according to the package, but amounts to $20 a month on average.)
The FTC is alleging that the company sent emails to nonsubscribers on Match.com about accounts that liked or favorited their account, messaged them on the website, or emailed them all as part of a bid by the company to persuade people to subscribe — even though those accounts had been flagged as fraudulent and were likely run by someone trying to carry out a romance scam.
As a result, between June 2016 to May 2018, some 499,691 users had subscribed to Match.com within 24 hours of getting an email about a like or a message from a fraudulent account, the lawsuit stated.
Many of those subscribers wound up interacting with a scammer on the website, the FTC said, thereby exposing them to the risk of fraud.
When asked about the FTC lawsuit, a Match spokesperson directed BuzzFeed News to a statement on its website disputing the allegations, including that the agency was "wildly overstating the impact of fraudulent accounts" and "mischaracterizing what is encompassed in 'fraudulent.'"
"The vast majority of the users that the FTC characterizes as 'fraudulent' are not romance scams or similar types of fraudsters, but spam, bots, and other users attempting to use the service for their own commercial purposes," the statement read.
The lawsuit also highlighted the company's policies around a guaranteed free renewal, as well as its cancellation process.
Some Match.com subscribers ran into trouble trying to access a free six-month subscription renewal that the company guaranteed them, the FTC said, because the terms for that renewal weren't laid out clearly by the company. When subscribers tried to contest these charges with their banks, the FTC alleged they were barred from using the Match.com services that they had already shelled out money for.
The company, however, stated that those terms "are listed in multiple places and are clearly called out next to the guarantee by a conspicuous 'Learn More' hyperlink" on the website.
And although Match noted in its statement that the online cancellation process "generally takes less than a minute," the FTC alleged that its "confusing and cumbersome cancellation process" burdened users, and in some cases, misled them into thinking they had canceled their subscriptions when they had not.
Match is also the parent company of Tinder, OKCupid, and Hinge, among other dating apps.
The company said in its statement that it intends to "vigorously defend ourselves against these claims in court."