Have you created a free profile on Match.com and received an email saying someone "liked" you or sent you a message, but you need to subscribe to learn more? Millions of people have it. And according to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly half a million went ahead and subscribed, only to find the alleged romantic interest messages were in fact forgery. who claimed that Match.com "used fake love interest ads to trick hundreds of thousands of consumers into buying paid subscriptions."
According to an FTC statement, up to 30 percent of users who sign up for Match.com every day are there to carry out scams. These include "romance scams, phishing schemes, fraudulent advertising and blackmail scams." That in itself should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time around the internet. But, the FTC lawsuit says, Match.com used the fake messages to attract new subscribers.
If you've never used Match.com, it works like this: Creating a profile is free, but you need a paid subscription to view and respond to communications sent by other users of the site. When users create free profiles, and then other users either "like" these profiles or send messages in Match.com, the service automatically sends generated emails alerting people with free user profiles that someone on the service is interested in them.
"He just sent you an email! You caught his eye, and now he has expressed an interest in you … Can he be it? READ HIS EMAIL >>"
It's a example of such an email as the FTC included in the lawsuit. It says 499,691[ads1] people signed up after receiving an email like it, only to find either a fraudulent message or a message that was no longer available because Match.com's fraud protection system has already captured and deactivated that account. In response to the lawsuit, Match issued a statement describing the successes of its anti-fraud efforts. It says:
"We capture and neutralize 85 percent of potentially incorrect accounts within the first four hours, usually before even being active on the site. And 96 percent of false accounts during of a day. "
That may well be true. But the FTC claims Match.com only protects its paying users from these accounts because suspicious account messages are withheld from existing subscribers during a fraud determination process, but the company still sends emails that invite non-paying users to subscribe based on the same suspicious messages. The complaint states:
"If, for example, a user accused the flag which had potentially fraudulently sent three emails to subscribers and three emails to non-subscribers, the defendant would have withheld the three emails sent to subscribers until the review was completed while allowing the three emails sent to non-subscribers to reach the recipients. "
Match's statement does not specifically address this accusation. And while it can certainly be said that 96 percent of incorrect accounts are neutralized within 24 hours, it still leaves plenty of time for those accounts to send out messages or "likes."
The FTC lawsuit also accuses Match of other business practices it claims to be illegal, such as offering a free six-month extension to users who are unable to meet "anyone special" during the first six-month subscription period, but that it is many special, time-sensitive requirements to get the free extension buried deep in the fine letter.
The FTC also claims that Match fails to offer an easy way for consumers to opt out and stop recurring fees, something the FTC says violates the 2010 Restore Online Shoppers & # 39; Confidence Act (or ROSCA). That may be the most important claim in the entire lawsuit because, according to the FTC, the court notes that the court can impose civil penalties of up to $ 42,530 for each occurrence of a ROSCA violation. The FTC does not say how many ROSCA violations it thinks Match is guilty of, and it is difficult to get details about subscriber numbers. But a report suggests that Match Group has a total of around 9 million subscribers, which could make a lot of money.
Match says it will fight the lawsuit. "The FTC has misrepresented internal emails and relied on cherry-picked data to make outrageous allegations, and we intend to vigorously defend against these claims in court," the statement said. The company also says that the terms of the six-month-long warranty were very clearly laid out in "easy-to-read paragraphs on a single web page" and that the guarantee program has at least ended. In response to the ROSCA accusation, it notes that during the period the FTC investigated, "84 percent of subscribers beginning the online cancellation process have canceled their account within 24 hours." A minor sampling suggests that another 4 percent is capable of interrupting after more than 24 hours of testing, the statement from Match says. But if all that is true, it still doesn't explain why 12 percent of people who want to quit using the service don't seem to do so.
If this is really tried, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. In the meantime, if you have a free Match.com profile and you get a message that suggests you subscribe because someone is interested in you – as with all online services – you should think carefully before entering that credit card number.
The opinions expressed here by the Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.