If you've ever wondered whether some user profiles on Internet dating sites are too good to be true that's because they are, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
In its first enforcement action against an online dating service, the FTC has accused U.K.-\based JDI Dating of using fake, computer-generated profiles to trick customers into upgrading to paid memberships, then charging recurring monthly fees without their consent.
A settlement between the FTC and JDI Dating, announced Wednesday, prohibits the company from using fake profiles to lure customers and requires the company to repay more than US$616,000.
JDI Dating did not return an email message seeking comment on the settlement.
Since 2013, JDI Dating has operated a worldwide dating service through 18 websites, including Cupidswand.com, Findmelove.com, Hookup.info and Naughtyover40.com. The company offered customers a free plan that allowed them to set up a profile with personal information and photos. After new users set up a free profile, they received messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing interest in the user, the FTC said in a news release.
Users were unable to respond to those messages without upgrading to a paid membership, costing from $10 to $30 a month, the FTC said.
The messages, however, were usually from fake, computer-generated "virtual Cupids" created by JDI dating, with photos and information looking like they came from the profiles of real people, the FTC said. Those fake profiles contained a small graphic -- a small "v" encircled by a "C" -- but customers were not likely to see or to understand the icon, the FTC alleged.
The company also failed to tell subscribers that their subscriptions would be renewed automatically, the FTC said. To avoid additional charges, members had to cancel at least 48 hours before their subscriptions ended. Information about the automatic renewal feature was buried in multiple pages of what the FTC called "densely worded text" that consumers could see only by clicking a terms-and-conditions hyperlink. Consumers were not required to access this hyperlink as part of the enrollment process, the agency said.
The FTC complaint against JDI Dating, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, accused the company of violating U.S. consumer protection law by misrepresenting the source of the communications from fake profiles and by failing to disclose the automatic renewal terms. The company also failed to clearly disclose the terms of the recurring subscription plan, in violation of the U.S. Restore Online Shoppers' Confidence Act, the FTC said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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