If you believe the ads for online dating services that claim true love is just a couple of clicks away, the Better Business Bureau is warning the public to be careful with hearts and wallets when using them.
As a rule, dating services are not free. The BBB received more than 1,100 complaints last year, dealing with issues such as billing and collection; refunds, advertising and sales practices, to poor customer service.
“I’ll bet you ‘poor customer service’ – as I look at those complaints – would mean that they didn’t have anybody they could connect with. They make it very difficult for that,” said Tammy Ward with the Bureau’s Pensacola office.
She adds that many such sites make exaggerated claims when it comes to potential contacts.
“Sometime you’ll get notifications that there are several thousand singles out there just for you, and you can match up with this one and that one,” Ward said. “And sometimes they’ll let you know that you’ve got these matches, but you have to pay. That’s not always the case; that’s just a way of hooking you into some type of a membership.”
Romance scams have been around a lot longer than social media – back in the day, the telephone and postal service were used. Nowadays, Ward says one major obstacle is the creation of fake sites online.
“The steal somebody’s picture, their information and that kind of thing; and one they hook on they’ll try to get them off that dating site,” said Ward. “Because once their profile is determined to be fake they’ll be shut down. So they want to get those people they already have hooked either texting with them, or emailing them so they can continue with their scam.”
Both men and women can fall prey to the bogus affairs of the heart. Ward says there’s a good chance that there won’t be a face-to-face meeting with whoever you contact online, because all they want is your money.
“They will spend not just days, not just months – they will spend, some of them, years grooming their victim before they start asking for money,” Ward said. “And if that victim falls for it and sends money, then they have them and will continue to send money.”
Men face schemes involving so-called “mail-order brides” from overseas.
“Girls that are in a different country, and they want to come here to the United States,” said Ward. “They are actually sending money for who they think will be visiting the United States, and they never materialize here.”
Some tips from the Better Business Bureau: if you fall in love, don’t let it be with the advertising that claims there are thousands of matches out their awaiting you.
“That’s not always the case; before they ask you those questions they don’t know,” said Ward. “So just take a step back and read through everything. Don’t let the possibility of this happening be the only reason that you do it.”
This advice can be used both with online dating sites and just about any other place were scams are attempted: Ward says do not give in to high-pressure sales.
“If you put in any personal information – especially your email address – you’ll get flooding with emails as far as ‘come do this today, this is only good for today,’” said Ward. “This is the time you want to just delete those messages. And if you can, there should be something at the bottom of those emails that says ‘unsubscribe.’”
Also, know how to break up with the dating service. Don’t assume that you’ll not be billed once the contract runs out. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Take the time to call the company or send written instructions to cancel, and read their policies before signing up.
Perhaps the most important tip, says the BBB’s Tammy Ward, is do your homework.
“For someone that you’re looking at meeting, ask them personal questions – where they are, what they’re doing,” Ward said. “If you really think you’re going to like this person, ask to speak with them on true-form; not on text, not on Instant Message, not some online way. You want to be able to see them face-to-face.”
You can check the business profiles of online dating services by going to bbb.org/consumer-complaints to get up to speed on their limitations, costs and terms of service, as well as the potential for fraud if your match turns out to be a thief.