Looking for love, they found frustration – and lost money

As we approach Valentines Day, romance scam trend continues to wreak havoc across the country

They might seem like an easy path to a no-strings-attached relationship but online dating services can also trap users into endless billing cycles. 

That’s according to what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) described as a “consistent pattern of complaints.”

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Of the more than 1,100 complaints filed to the consumer protection group regarding online dating services in 2019, most reported problems cancelling services due to automatic renewals.

BBB recommends users pay close attention to the costs and terms of service of an online dating service.

It’s also warning people to be on the lookout for fraud “as many scammers utilize dating websites to prey on vulnerable people looking for love and companionship.”

According to the BBB’s national list of top 10 scams across Canada, romance fraud ranked number one in 2018, representing more than $22.5 million in reported losses. Preliminary numbers from 2019 suggest the romance scam trend continues to wreak havoc across the country, according to the BBB.

“Criminals posing as potential romantic 'matches' may lead victims on for a while, then suddenly claim they have some emergency that requires significant amounts of money,” wrote the BBB spokesperson in a press release, noting that many of these criminals are overseas, making it more difficult for authorities to pursue them or for victims to get their money back.

The BBB has four pieces of advice for those looking to use online dating services:

  1. Do not fall in love with the advertising. Be skeptical of claims such as "an exclusive network of people," "for sincere daters only" or "beautiful singles like you." Complainants were told the service had a database of thousands of singles but they did not receive the promised number of dates or introductions.
  2. Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Sales associates may tell you a low price is only good for that day and ask you to sign a contract immediately. Read the contracts as well as the terms and conditions carefully to ensure you understand how you will be charged and what you need to do to cancel.
  3. Know how to break up. Consumers should not assume that they will stop being billed once the contract runs out. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Usually, you need to call the company or send written instructions to avoid being billed again. Read cancellation policies carefully before you sign up.
  4. Beware of demands by a match to send money. Before moving on to ask you for money, the scammer may hint at financial troubles like heat being cut off or having a  car stolen or a sick relative, or they may share a sad story from their past (death of parents or spouse, etc.). In most reports, victims were asked to send money using a wire transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union. Once the money is sent that way, however, it is irrecoverable.

Another tip: Do your homework by checking out a dating service’s business profile at bbb.org.

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