FTC Brings Action Against Match.com for Using Romance Scammers to Obtain Subscription Purchases
The Fake Match Messages
Although Match allows consumers to create free accounts, it requires users to upgrade to a paid subscription before they can view and respond to messages received from other users. According to the FTC’s complaint, Match allowed fake profiles to send messages to users who created free accounts. The messages led consumers to believe that another user was interested in a romantic connection and encouraged them to upgrade to a paid subscription in order to view the messages. Many users purchased subscriptions in hopes of meeting the sender. However, these messages were sent from fake accounts that Match allegedly knew were fraudulent.
While the FTC acknowledged that platforms like Match may not be able to prevent all fraudulent activity by members or users, the FTC took issue with the fact that Match was not only aware of the fraudulent activity but was using such activity to its financial advantage by using the fake messages to encourage users to upgrade to paid accounts. In the words of the FTC, “online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.
The FTC also alleges that consumers who tried to cancel their subscriptions were unable to follow Match’s cancellation process, which required consumers to complete two pages of survey questions and led consumers to believe they had cancelled their subscriptions when they had not.
Match’s Free Trial Program
According to the FTC, Match also failed to adequately disclose the material terms of its six-month free trial offer. Under the offer, consumers would receive the services for free “if they did not meet someone special.” Additional details of the offer were provided after consumers clicked a link labeled “Learn more.” The link redirected consumers to a numbered list of requirements followed by lengthy terms. According to the FTC, the list presentation led consumers to believe that all of the requirements were included in the list, when in fact there were additional requirements included in the terms below the numbered list.
This case illustrates the risks posed by not having a strategic plan that comprehensively protects all customers from third parties who troll major e-commerce platforms. To reduce the risk of enforcement action, companies that allow users to interact with each other should carefully review their practices to ensure that all users are protected from false and deceptive advertising, not just the paying customers. Companies should also disclose their terms and conditions and cancellation procedures in a clear and understandable manner. Specifically, companies should be concise without misleading consumers into thinking that they have satisfied all of their requirements, when they have not.