The dangers of online dating

Published by Sarah Coles on 10 February 2010.
Last updated on 24 August 2011

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...

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 match.com but says after the first month, "for many reasons, I decided it wasn't for me". However, match.com 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: "Match.com 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?

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