Online dating company sued for creating fake profiles to exploit customers
By Brittney MacDonald, Staff Writer
JDI Dating Ltd., a UK-based company that owns and maintains 18 separate dating sites worldwide, has claimed responsibility for scamming customers out of hundreds of dollars by advertising fake profiles.
JDI accepted a settlement laid out by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for over $600,000 in compensation to its over 12-million customers. The FTC released the following statement to the press, detailing the scam:
“The defendants (JDI) offered a free plan that allowed users to set up a profile with personal information and photos. As soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest, or a desire to meet. However, users were unable to respond to these messages without upgrading to a paid membership. Membership plans cost from $10- to $30 per month, with subscriptions generally ranging from one to 12 months. The messages were almost always from fake, computer-generated profiles—‘Virtual Cupids’ (represented by a small symbol on the profile that was not explained to the website’s human users)— created by the defendants, with photos and information designed to closely mimic the profiles of real people.”
After customers upgraded their account and discovered that the “interested” parties might not be as corporeal as they had hoped, it became difficult to stop the company from billing the card’s account. Countless customers were then stuck paying for profiles they no longer wanted.
The full charges made by the FTC were for “misrepresenting the source of the communications from fake profiles and failing to disclose the automatic renewal terms,” as stated on the FTC’s website. The settlement not only required JDI to pay up, but to clearly label all “fake” profiles from here on in, as well as re-formatting the part of their Terms and Services agreement pertaining to refunds and cancellations, making it easier for the average consumer to understand. This is the first time the FTC has pursued a case against a dating site for unethical practices.
Though JDI owns and operates many sites popular in the US and UK, none of its incarnations are particularly popular in Canada. OKCupid.com is, however, and it did come under fire in July 2014 after accusations of data manipulation were confirmed by Christian Rudder, the site’s founder. In an interview with Audie Cornish, host of All Things Considered, Rudder admitted that profiles were being altered without the user’s consent in attempt to perform various social experiments.