FTC stops dating service from fishing for payments via fake profiles

30 Oct 2014

Virtual cupids were marked by a 'v' within a 'c'. Image via ftc.gov

Worldwide dating service operator JDI Dating can no longer use fake, computer-generated profiles to allegedly trick users into forking over extra fees under a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

In its first law enforcement action against an online dating service, the FTC has reached a settlement that prohibits English-based JDI Dating from using fake, computer-generated profiles that trick users into upgrading to paid memberships, and charging these members a recurring monthly fee without their consent.

The complaint by the FTC claimed JDI Dating operates a dating service through 18 different websites, including such stunningly innnovative URLs as cupidswand.com, flirtcrowd.com and findmelove.com.

The FTC alleged that, as soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest or a desire to meet – or so it seemed. In actual fact, claimed the FTC, these were ‘Virtual Cupids’ – a small ‘v’ encircled by a ‘c’ on the profile page was the only indication that the profiles were fake. To make matters worse, users couldn’t respond to these fakes without upgrading to a paid membership.

“The settlement order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting material facts about any product or service and, from failing to disclose clearly to potential members that they will receive communications from virtual profiles who are not real people,” according to the FTC.

“The order requires that, before obtaining consumers’ billing information for a product with a negative-option feature, the defendants must clearly disclose the name of the seller or provider, a product description and its cost, the length of any trial period, the fact that charges will continue unless the consumer cancels, the deadline for canceling, and the mechanism to stop recurring charges.

“The order also bars the defendants from using consumers’ billing information to obtain payment without their informed consent. The injunction also bars the defendants from misrepresenting refund and cancellation policies, and failing to disclose clearly the terms of a negative option plan – before a consumer consents to pay.” 

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic