The dangers of online dating

Twenty years ago internet dating was just for a handful of techie types. Now it has soared in popularity, with a YouGov survey finding 49% of men and 41% of women have used internet dating sites to find love.

Sadly, a market this big is bound to breed its fair share of bad deals, rip-offs and out-and-out scams.

According to the Better Business Bureau in the US, complaints about dating sites are increasing every year. The most common criticism is something these sites can't really be blamed for: bad matches.

This isn't a huge shock given that the YouGov pollsters found 9% of people lied about their age and 7% about their weight, and that 64% of women agree with the statement that "some of the people who do it are strange".

Have you had a bad experience? Share your experiences in the comment boxes below...

But in some instances, this goes beyond the little white lie to orchestrated, malevolent scams. The criminals pose as genuine singles. They strike up a seemingly innocent relationship, and after they have drawn you in, they start asking for money.

One common approach is the 'sick child' scam, where the online lover asks for a small sum for fundraising and if you pay, they start pushing for more and more.

They may also ask for photos or for you to appear on the webcam, and then if you try to call a halt to the scam they threaten to blackmail you.

So how can you avoid falling foul of these criminals? There are some tell-tale signs: they avoid talking about their personal life in detail; they immediately want to start calling you 'babe' or something equally easy for them to remember; they move fast, and after investing a few weeks stringing you along, start asking for photos or money; their spelling and grammar is pretty awful; and they want to move off the site fairly quickly, preferring to get you to use instant messaging.

You can make checks to see if someone is genuine. Ask detailed questions about where they claim to live, and check out the answers.

If they take a minute or two to reply, they are looking it up, and if they are inaccurate, they are plucking an answer from thin air. Ask for proper details of their life, and then Google them.

Most people have left a digital footprint somewhere, so be wary of anyone you cannot find.

Dating websites get in on the act

But you don't need to fall victim to a scam in order to be ripped off by the process of finding love online. The second biggest complaint is about high-pressure sales tactics.

Have you had a bad experience? Share your experiences in the comment boxes below...

One of the biggest problems is individuals who felt they were tricked into a subscription, most commonly because they joined what they thought was a free service, and found that to use it properly they had to pay a fee.

Dating Direct, for example, advertises itself as free to join, but as Graham Brooke, a 40-year-old manager from the Midlands, says: "I went through the whole process of signing up and finding people I might want to get in touch with, only to discover I'd have to pay before I could send or open any messages.

So, basically, the free service was worthless, and was just a ruse to get me to sign up."

Dawn Barber, a 28-year-old administrator from Kent, tried a few of these sites and was disappointed with them all. "Most of the sites work in the same way – you register, then get bombarded with 'matches' in an effort to get you to pay to view these potential soulmates."

She was particularly frustrated with eHarmony, where she says: "You go through an intense profile analysis, and when you get to the end, they say you have perfect matches but won't even show you a picture of them before you have to pay."

The next most common complaint was about accounts that were automatically renewed after a contract or trial period expired. Faye Meadows, a 26-year-old website owner from London, hit a dry dating patch over the summer and decided to give online dating a go.

She signed up with but says after the first month, "for many reasons, I decided it wasn't for me". However, had other ideas.

She explains: "When I looked at my bank account, I realised I'd already been charged £34.99 for another month, and to add insult to injury it had sent me overdrawn."

She admits that the company hadn't actually done anything wrong: " doesn't hide the fact that it automatically renews, it's there in the small print, but I had forgotten and I didn't get an email letting me know the renewal date was coming up." 

Whether it's the legal but unpopular sales techniques, or the illegal criminal activity, there are plenty of ways in which online dating can be dangerous and expensive. No one ever said finding love was easy, but surely it was never supposed to be so hard – and expensive?

More about

Your Comments

Hi I met a chap for a drink and his conversation was built around how many guys he had beaten up. Also how he could chop someone's head of and get away with it!
I reported him to the dating site and he remained online!!

I've been using Friends Reunited Dating (FRD) since last Summer and everything was going well with site interaction. However, just after Christmas a friend rang me from London, who is also registered with FRD, to say that she bizarrely had access to my profile, photos, emails and account membership details! We both emailed independantly to FRD, to complain about the breach of data protection. I have since emailed again to complain. FRD maintain on the site that they will respond within 48 working hours to members emails. I have not heard anything from them. However they continue to send emails regarding potential 'matches' and also to remind me about my membership status. In my second email I said I would not be renewing until I had received a reply to my two emails. My friend continues to have access to my profile details (as at 14th February 2010) and I wonder how many more people have access too. Where do I go with this now? Is there an Ombudsman I can contact?


Parship also goes to great lengths to profile your personality and match you up with potential partners. But to contact anyone you need to pay a subscription. Then they use confusion marketing when they describe the tarrifs - so whilst I naturally opted for what appears to be the cheapest option - they emailed to say they wanted to debit 12 months in one go: £178. You have an eight day cooling off period under distance selling rules - which allows you to cancel as long as you haven't logged in - but of course when you are panicking about being charged a fortune you immediately log in. Bingo! They've got you. And as they have my card details I'm stuck paying for a completely useless service. The fact the company is based in Hamburg does not fill me with confidence. My advice is DON'T TOUCH PARSHIP.


There's a bit of buyer beware here. I don't think any of the major sites (Dating Direct, Parship, Match, etc) are doing anything more "naughty" than Sky or any broadband provider in terms of renewing contracts, and as for the lump some payments, I'm pretty sure every time I have thought about doing that it has pretty clearly stated "your account will be charged £60" (or whatever it is)

Just because it's generally a bit of fun doesn't mean you shouldn't treat your financial transactions with exactly the same degree of vigilance as you would in any other situation.

The sick child scam has been around as long as there have been, well, children - it just evolves with technology. So does the "I just need £200 to leave Russia, then we can be married" one (only fallen for that twice so far)

As for the 64% who find some people "a bit strange" - anonymous single blokes on the internet - who'd have thought?

Dont touch BE2 I have had bad experience they said I had signed up for a month trial with them but I did not I signed up for a free month trial some time ago and then I discovered they had not only taken £5.00 out of my account but a further £159.00 for ongoing subscription. I have never agreed to this ever or given them my credit card details. My Bank has returned the money to my account pending enquiry and they are very rigid they tell me they e mailed me and confirmed this and never have I received this e mail or I would have IMMEDIATELY reacted. Be VERY CAREFUL EVERYBODY they quote Terms and Conditions at you but you will see referring to these terms is in small print and you have to log in first before u can read them and then thre are reams and reams of stuff to confuse you. DONT TOUCH THESE TRIALS

I've been victim of such scam once. A girl made me convince that she needed some money to buy a prom dress, I lended her about 200£ but she started asking me more frequently for different reasons. Later I found out she's a damn lier and only interested in money. Now I'm very much clear and want to make others aware about the fraudulant dating websites which is a mere platform for sucking money from innocent people.

I signed up for the free initial period on countryside love. They asked for credit card details at the time and it was fairly clear I would be charged IF I wanted to contact any members. Once I'd filled it all in I found there was only one member within a 100 miles of me so I figured I wouldn't use the site again. This was early 2010. In June of 2010 an identified debit from a company called soulsmateclick debited my credit card. Because I didn't know who it was, or what it was for, I asked my credit card for the money back. It was refunded. Then a month later another debit went out but this time to Again, I asked for it back and my credit card company took the extra precaution of cancelling my card and issuing a new one. At no time did either soulsmateclick or affliatedating contact me directly, or demonstrate they were connected to countrysidelove.

Then two weeks ago I get a FINAL DEMAND and court threat, very aggressively, from a debt colleciton agency on behalf of Affliate Dating. Again I had no idea who this was but I phoned them to be told that it was one of the trading names of countrysidelove.

At no time did anyone from the actual site contact me directly. All communications from the debt collection agency went to my spam folder and were only spotted by accident.

They also sent a FINAL DEMAND to my ex-husband's address in my married name!

When I contacted countryside love I was told that they had on record ALL my activity on the site and I was regularly using it. (I AM NOT)

I asked them to provide proof. They stalled.

Owing to the constant harrassment from the debt agency, I paid the bill which was £43.xx to be rid of them.

I have since had an email from the IT department at countrysidelove telling me they can only tell me the last activity on the site, not ALL the activity. Perhaps that's because there wasn't any?????

The email from the site owner was very rude; he basically called me a liar. He said they had all my activity recorded and my claim that I had not used the site since at least March was not the 'true story'.

I am now out of pocket. It is quite possible that someone else has access to my email account details, login and possibly credit card (although that particular one has been cancelled) and has been accessing the site in my name. It is equally possible that there was no activity on the site and I should not have been charged.

Even if I was using the site, which I can assure you I wasn't, taking money without any prior notification, in two different company names, without any reference to the site you would associate with, is just plain wrong.

And, when there is a problem it should be polite to send the bill to the client before just approaching debt collectors and threatening court action!

I joined and for a while on a month by month basis.

I decided to cancel both my subscriptions and I phoned both of them to get confirmation that there would be no automatic renewal in September. But both organisations (it turns out they are owned by the same company) continued to charge my credit card in October.

I called again and was given confirmation that no further charges would be made. In November, datingdirect did not charge me but still did.

I wrote to my credit card company, with a copy to, instructing them not to allow any further payments. However, they told me they cannot do that - apparently, once a merchant like has your credit card details they can continue to collect payment and it is for you to sort out with the merchant.

I called again today and was promised that they will not take any further payments. But they don't send any email confirmation or give any reference number.

If anyone else has had similar difficulties in getting or to cancel subscriptions and stop taking payments, please let me know as I am sorely tempted to start a class action against them.



I've just found out that a man I met on a dating site and made friends with (I thought) is a (twice) convicted paedophile and may have been grooming me to access my child.

He seemed like a very nice, intelligent and mild person. He's been to my house and I trusted him, although fortunately I did not take him up on his offer to 'go for a drive in the country'.

You can't generalise from one experience, although I'm taking a break from internet dating. Always google people first if possible and make yourself ex-directory and get off the edited electoral register - you can track someone's home address in seconds once you have their full name.

B2 dating hoax
I have been using this site for some time now and I have noticed that I almost never receive a direct message from anyone; it's all just automated messages. The pictures are blurred and restricted even though I have had a Premium membership.
I have now tried to cancel my membership and there is only an address in Luxembourg.  No telephone to call any customer support. I have followed the cancellation directives in the general terms however I cannot get a cancellation confirmation and money have been withdrawn from my account though I have repeatedly contacted 2B via fax and via post. You CAN NOT cancel your premium membership via email. When you try to find out how to cancel your membership (this is not to be confused with your profile), you go to the support tab and follow the instructions however you are always re-directed to the first page, pretty much clicking yourself through to the page where you started. Nowhere is there any information about how to cancel your membership. You will only be referred to the next link stating “to cancel your Premium Membership click here”.

i have disappointed that i have lost my £139 from online dating - global personal ltd. I paid as i thought it is monthly  and realised thay taken whole £139 for annaul year charge as same time my card stolen and have explain to them that can not refund as non refundable policy if i cancel my subscription by few day and feel belittled over have to 11months for nothing like as waste of my money and they still determined to no refund and stick my membership till expiry date next year. How i claim it by consumer rights? please help me for rights to claims the refund? my Bank can not help because of no refundable! i feel never again and not trust with any online dating sites as have bad expenerices and not working for me. some dating sites - most dating customer use money for sex than mature what i ask for looking dating or freindship and relationship.
chris (belittted guest)

I took out a 6-month subscription with and even though I had cancelled the "auto-renewal" (a ridiculously complicated process that they obviously don't want you to manage to do), 6 months later without warning or any communication at all they stole £137 from my PayPal account.
If it wasn't for the PayPal email I received, I would never have known about it unless I happened to spot it on my bank statement some time later as I received no communication from at all, even after they took my money - a complete ripoff and scam.
DO NOT TRUST DATINGDIRECT.COM AND DO NOT EXPECT PAYPAL TO HELP YOU IN ANY WAY, THEY DON'T CARE EITHER. appear to be the same company so I wouldn't trust them or Dating Direct.

i joined what i thought was match .com, but ended up in dating direct. i took the free 3 day trial to see how i got on.. after looking at the subscriptions there was no way at the time i could afford £44.99 a month , so i cancelled my membership, i was then asked to tick a box as to why, i said too expensive, i was then directed to a months free trial offer, which i clicked on, this took me to the subscription page , so assuming it was for the month i clicked on the month payment.. i was billed £44.99... i contacted direct dating stating i had cancelled my subscription so why have they charged me.. i was given a refund...then on the assumption i had my months free trial i carried on using site, then i noticed another payment of £44.99 had been taken out of my account.. i contacted them again stating i only wanted my months free membership , they told me i was not entitled to another refund..i then re sent another email explaining..i couldnt afford the £44.99 a month hence i was cancelling my subscription, and why havent i had a free months trial as one has answered that part !!!! very misleading and very expensive..i will be looking into this matter further..... plus all my matches looked like shrek! .