Contributed by: ElyseRomano Sunday, October 13 2019 @ 09:03 am
The Federal Trade Commission announced it is suing Match Group for using fake notifications to trick users into paying for subscriptions to Match.com. The FTC also alleges that Match Group unfairly exposed consumers to the risk of fraud and engaged in other allegedly deceptive and unfair practices to induce users to subscribe and keep them subscribed to the dating service.
Match.com allows users to create a profile and use some of the platform’s features for free. However, users are prohibited from responding to messages from admirers unless they upgrade to a higher membership tier with a subscription fee. According to the FTC’s complaint[*1] , Match sent misleading advertisements to users with free accounts stating that someone had expressed interest in them and encouraging them to subscribe to the service to view the message and the identity of its sender. Many users purchased subscriptions as a result of these deceptive ads, believing they were going to communicate with a real user who could be “the one.”
The FTC alleges that millions of contacts that generated these email notifications came from accounts Match had already flagged as likely to be fake. A user who subscribed to the service before Match finished its review process could come into contact with the scammer. A user who subscribed after Match completed its review process and deleted the fraudulent account would receive a notification that the profile was “unavailable.” In either case, the user would find themselves with a paid subscription to the service as a result of a false advertisement.
“We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.”
In addition to these allegations, the FTC’s complaint also claims that Match deceived consumers with inconspicuous and confusing disclosures. The complaint states that Match induced users to upgrade their membership by promising a free six-month subscription if they did not “meet someone special” without adequately disclosing that the company would not honor the guarantee unless a user also met the following requirements:
Because users were unaware of these conditions, the FTC says, they were often billed for a six-month subscription instead of receiving the free six months of service they expected.
The third section of the complaint deals with Match’s unfair billing practices and alleged failure to provide clear subscription cancellation practices. The FTC alleges that Match banned users from accessing the services they paid for after they disputed Match’s charges through their financial institutions, and that Match violated the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) by failing to provide a simple method for a consumer to stop recurring charges. The complaint states that Match’s own employees described the cancellation process as “hard to find, tedious, and confusing” and noted that “members often think they’ve cancelled when they have not and end up with unwanted renewals.”
The FTC’s complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas and will now be decided by the court.