DALLAS (CN) – The Federal Trade Commission sued dating website operator Match Group on Wednesday, claiming it uses scammers’ phony love interest advertisements to dupe thousands of people into buying paid subscriptions on Match.com.
The site allows users to create dating profiles for free, but they must buy a subscription to respond to messages from other users. The FTC claims millions of Match’s “‘You caught his eye’ notices came from accounts already flagged as likely to be fraudulent.”
Meanwhile, the agency claims, Match Group prevented existing subscribers from receiving the messages from suspected fraudulent accounts.
“These advertisements represent that the communication the nonsubscriber received was sent from a legitimate user of the site who has expressed interest in the consumer receiving the message,” the 26-page complaint states. “Consumers also receive discount offers for subscription packages at reduced prices that similarly represent expressly that specific Match.com users are interested in them.”
The FTC claims that customers who bought a subscription because of the misleading ads would instead find a scammer on the other end.
“Consumers came into contact with the scammer if they subscribed before Match completed its fraud review process,” the FTC said in a written statement. “If Match completed its review process and deleted the account as fraudulent before the consumer subscribed, the consumer received a notification that the profile was ‘unavailable.’ In either event, the consumer was left with a paid subscription to Match.com, as a result of a false advertisement.”
Publicly traded shares of the Dallas-based company dove as much as seven percent when the lawsuit was announced Tuesday before closing approximately two percent down for the day. Match Group also owns popular dating sites Tinder, OKCupid and PlentyOfFish.
Match Group said Wednesday that it has been focused “for nearly 25 years” on helping people find love while “fighting the criminals” that take advantage of users.
“We’ve developed industry leading tools and AI that block 96% of bots and fake accounts from our site within a day and are relentless in our pursuit to rid our site of these malicious accounts,” the company said in a statement. “The FTC has misrepresented internal emails and relied on cherry-picked data to make outrageous claims and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these claims in court.”
Over 21,000 people reported romance scams in 2018, with over $143 million reported lost, according to the agency’s complaint database.
The FTC also accuses Match Group of using “deceptive” guarantees promising another free six-month subscription to any subscriber who failed to “meet someone special” during their first six months. It says that buried under a “program rules” section were six bolded eligibility rules that required maintaining a public profile photograph approved by Match.com and contacting five unique subscribers each month, among other stipulations.
“For example, the rules clarify that to satisfy the primary photo requirement, consumers must submit a photo and have it approved by defendant within the first seven days of purchasing the guarantee,” the complaint states. “After the numbered list of rules, the page contained several unnumbered paragraphs … these paragraphs contained additional requirements related to consumers’ ability to comply with defendant’s Match guarantee program rules.”
The FTC claims only 32,000 free six-month subscriptions were awarded under the guarantee from 2013 to 2016, when nearly 2.5 million subscriptions were purchased.
“In contrast, defendant billed nearly 1 million consumers who purchased a guarantee for an additional six-month package when the first six-month period expired,” the complaint states.
Match Group also allegedly makes it too difficult to cancel a subscription through “confusing and cumbersome cancellation practices.” The FTC claims users must click through two pages of survey questions and cites a 2015 internal presentation that notes the cancellation flow as “hard to find, tedious and confusing.”
“Members often think they’ve cancelled when they have not and end up with unwanted renewals,” the internal presentation stated. “The current process takes over six clicks.”
The FTC seeks disgorgement and a permanent injunction against Match Group for violations of the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act and the Fair Trade Commission Act.
Zachary A. Keller, with the agency’s Dallas office, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.