Match.com used flagged scam messages to con users into paid subscriptions, FTC says

Hundreds of thousands of users bought a Match.com subscription to uncover the contents of a message that was actually a scam, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleges in a new lawsuit against Match Group Inc., the parent company of Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, and other dating platforms. The FTC shared details of the lawsuit on September 25, saying the online dating company knew those messages were likely fraudulent and used them to con users with a free account into paying for a subscription. Match, however, calls the claims “baseless.”

Users can subscribe to Match.com for free, but must have a paid subscription to read any messages sent by potential matches. According to the FTC, many unpaid users received messages from accounts already flagged by the company for potential fraud. In contrast, users with a paid account didn’t see those messages from accounts suspected of fraud.

The FTC says that as many as 20 to 25 percent of match.com’s new accounts are scammers. The FTC also alleges that more than half the instant messages and favorites between 2013 and  2016 were from accounts that Match.com identified as fraudulent. The agency also cites a study conducted by match.com that suggests 500,000 free users purchased an account after receiving a fraudulent message over a nearly two-year period.

The company, however, calls the claims outrageous, claiming the FTC cherry-picked its data and misrepresented internal emails. Match says that 85 percent of “potentially improper” accounts are detected in the first four hours and 96 percent within the first day. The instant messages and favorites that the FTC claims are fraudulent have already been removed from the platform in favor of email communication, Match says. The company says the email fraud rate is under 1 percent.

“The systems we have built at Match to detect and prevent fraud and other improper purposes are among the best in all of tech,” Match wrote in a statement. “We believe the FTC’s allegations are baseless and we look forward to proving that in court.”

In addition to the claim that Match used fraudulent messages to encourage paid subscriptions, the FTC also claims that the company’s cancellation process violates the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act. The FTC says that process “confused and frustrated consumers” to the point of preventing the actual cancellation. Match, however, claims that the cancellation process often takes less than a minute and that 84 percent of users that begin canceling their account finish the process the same day.

Finally, the FTC says that the company’s disclosures are hard to understand and, more specifically, fail to disclose the required steps users must take to receive the free six-month subscription the company offers for users who do not “meet someone special.”

The complaint, filed in Texas, will be decided in court at a later date.

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