Match Group, the company which recently launched a UK ad campaign deriding everything from fake news to fake dating profiles, is being sued by the US authorities for allegedly using fake ads to persuade hundreds of thousands of users to subscribe to the service.
The group owns 45 dating apps, including Match.com, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and Ok Cupid. But the complaint, filed by the US Federal Trade Commission, outlines five “deceptive or unfair practices” Match.com engaged in, which include misleading customers in “a confusing and cumbersome cancellation process”, and guaranteeing some users a free subscription renewal but failing to disclose the terms of the offer.
It also alleges that Match.com employed deceptive email marketing tactics, in which some users were coerced into signing up for the paid service under false pretences.
According to court papers, free Match.com users were sent automatic emails whenever another user messaged, “liked”, or added them as “favourite”. The emails encouraged users to subscribe to view the sender’s identity, but once they had coughed up the money, some users found either a message from a fake profile or a profile marked “unavailable”.
The FTC said that between June 2016 and May 2018, nearly 500,000 users purchased Match.com subscriptions within 24 hours of receiving a fake message.
FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director Andrew Smith said: “We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers. Online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.”
In response, Match insisted it has always been committed to rooting out malicious activity from its services and claims that fewer than 1% of email messages exchanged by users are fraudulent. The firm maintains that it blocks around 85% of fake accounts within the first four hours, before they are online.
A Match statement reads: “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.”
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