Many people turned to online dating apps and services last year hoping to find love and stay connected as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions put a halt to face to face social interaction and more traditional dating activities.
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker, this lead to an increase in romance scam reports. With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, the BBB is warning people to do their research, carefully review friendship or dating requests, and be wary of fraudsters.
In 2020, the BBB received nearly 253,000 inquiries about dating apps and services, which was an 11% increase from 2019. Complaints also jumped 76%, resulting in a total of 2,124, with close to 800 complaints received for dating service giant eHarmony Inc. Many of these complaints centred on issues with products being offered and difficulty securing refunds.
"I did not find the product suited my needs after a few hours of trying it, requested to cancel within 24hrs and receive a refund, but to no avail...did not feel that the service was at all worth the price," said one dissatisfied eHarmony user.
The app ‘Grindr’ also received its fair share of complaints, with most of them revolving around users being banned from the service with no explanation. The lack of response to the more than 60 user complaints has resulted in an 'F’ rating for the service.
However, in many cases, consumers are guilty of not reading the fine print of the terms and conditions.
"The complaints about dating services have highlighted that consumers are not thoroughly reviewing the terms and conditions connected to the various platforms," explained Karla Laird, Manager for Community and Public Relations at BBB.
"They are oftentimes lengthy and include unfamiliar terms and jargon, but it is important to fully understand what you are agreeing to, as it impacts your expectations and experience. At the same time, the companies need to provide more details and clarity about their cancellation and refund policies, especially when their customers are located in different jurisdictions. There should be no uncertainty about what policies, timelines and rules apply."
There was also a 2% increase in romance scams in 2020, in which a fraudster makes a victim believe they are in a relationship, and then begin making demands, typically for cash.
"I was on a site called Christian Helping Hands, I met this person on the website, and he started to message me and asked me for my number,” explained one victim.
“He said he was a missionary and was out of the country. We started talking on text and online. I thought we were in a relationship and I fell in love. He needed money for business, health and a return flight home. I kept sending him money and he told me not to tell anyone because he was ashamed that he had to ask me for help. So, I didn’t. My kids were looking at my bank statements and saw some large withdrawals and asked me about them and I told them. They were immediately suspicious,” the victim continued.
“I showed them his picture and they quickly searched it on the internet and found out it is a stock photo of someone in Switzerland, and that it was a scam the entire time. I lost over $4400 but my heart is broken, and I don’t understand how someone could do this."
Dating apps and services typically see a surge in activity in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, as people search for a match on what is purportedly the most romantic day of the year.
“If you decide to seek love through a dating app, watch out for the scammers who only love your money," warned Laird.
"BBB Scam Tracker reports share that the fraudsters may ask you to receive money for them and wire it overseas; they may claim to be helping a loved one battling COVID-19, doing a business deal, or representing a charitable organization. If you refuse, they may suddenly get hostile, threaten you or even grow distant, hoping you will give into their requests to get them back."
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald