Online daters beware: Next time you receive a love message from a stranger, you should probably curb your urge to respond.
This week, Match.com, one of the largest dating sites on the market, was hit with a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accusing the platform of scamming millions of users with phishing love messages sent by fake accounts.
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The lawsuit, filed against Match.com’s parent company Match Group, which also owns Tinder, OkCupid and dozens of other dating apps, alleged that Match.com has employed “five deceptive or unfair practices” since at least 2013 to trick consumers into subscribing to paid services and then making it difficult for them to cancel plans.
Match.com offers free account sign-ups, but it requires a subscription plan for users to message each other on the platform. The FTC contends that, in order to encourage users with free accounts to buy subscriptions, the dating site lured them with fake emails from nonexistent accounts. One such phishing message, according to the complaint, read, “He just emailed you! You caught his eye and now he’s expressed interest in you… Could he be the one?”
“We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers,” Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “Online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.”
The agency estimated that, between June 2016 and May 2018, Match.com delivered four million fake advertisements to 2.25 million consumers. More than 250,000 of the targeted users signed up for paid services within 24 hours of receiving the message.
Match Group said the FTC’s accusations were meritless and based on biased research results.
“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,” the company said in a statement.
Scams involving dating sites and other romance-related services are the most common type of consumer complaints filed with the FTC. Last year, the agency’s Consumer Sentinel complaint database received more than 21,000 reports about romance scams that resulted in a total loss of $143 million, the FTC said.
Match Group could face up to $100 million in civil penalties based on $42,530 per violation under the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act. The FTC complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where Match Group is headquartered.