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Dating Services - Stay Safe and Avoid Financial Heartache
Dating services, whether online or "real life," can lead to more than romantic encounters. Dating businesses -- particularly online dating services -- have become popular and profitable in recent years, and consumers should be aware of unwanted companions that may accompany their subscriptions. The tips immediately below apply to all types of dating services. Tips specific to online or location-based services are listed later.
Risks consumers should be aware of:
- Financial risks - being saddled with an expensive contract costing $5,000 (or more) that does not provide results but cannot be cancelled -- possibly leading to collection efforts and negative information that affects your credit report and credit score;
- Security and safety risks - becoming a victim of stalking or identity theft if your personal information is misused by other dating service members, company employees, or others who gain access to information about you. In addition, most dating services do not perform criminal background checks on members; and P
- Privacy risks - having your personal information made available to a wider audience than you expect, such as your co-workers or family members.
The Attorney General recommends:
- Say NO to high-pressure sales presentations with "now or never" offers -- unless time is truly of the essence (such as an emergency), any legitimate business will allow consumers time to study a complex, expensive contract and reflect on whether to sign it;
- Read your contract carefully before signing it -- including all "fine print" -- so you know exactly what you're buying. Some contracts make it easy for the dating service to avoid responsibility, but difficult for consumers to get their money back;
- Be extremely suspicious of any requests for money, especially before you have met the person face to face;
- Be cautious with your personal information. This includes financial information, contact information, and photographs of yourself;
- Never agree to meet for the first time in a private setting. Insist on a public place where there are sure to be other people around and tell a member of your family or a friend where you will be and when you will contact them again after the meeting. Arrange your own transportation to and from the meeting and have a working cellular phone with you, if possible, with a pre-programmed, one-touch emergency number. And leave all available information about the person you will be meeting with your contact; and
- Contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division or your local police department if you believe you have been treated unfairly or fear for your safety. (Contact information is provided at the end of this alert.)
Online Dating -- Privacy and Security Risks
In order to register for an online dating service, consumers are often asked to provide exhaustive personal information. How this information will be handled varies widely between companies. Most companies keep certain information private while making other details available to other members or even to anyone with Internet access. And as the recent wave of security breaches demonstrates, hackers are capable of pulling information out of company databases thought to be secure against intruders.
Here are a few tips for online dating services:
- Do not use an e-mail address you use for other purposes, and avoid using any address that contains your name or your employer or school name. Instead, use an e-mail address from a service that will permit you to open an account without giving out your personal information. Be sure to check with your e-mail provider for terms and conditions of use. Do not give out even this e-mail address too readily;
- Do not use a telephone number that can be traced to you through directory services. Check with your cellular service provider to find out whether third parties can associate your name with your cellular phone number; and
- Report abusive communications to the webmaster of the dating service. If the behavior continues, and you feel unsafe in view of the personal information you have disclosed, call your local police department.
Location-based Dating Services
Location-based or "real-world" dating services sometimes involve contracts with high costs and little chance of cancellation by the consumer. Contracts can easily run $1,000 -- even $10,000 contracts are not uncommon. Again, consumers should scrutinize contracts before signing.
- Look for contract terms that clearly disclose:
- The exact cost and any future payments that may be required. If you sign a retail installment contract, pay close attention to the interest and terms of payment;
- Whether, and under what circumstances, you may cancel the contract and receive a refund;
- Whether you can transfer the contract to another location in the event you move; and
- Exactly what the business, at a minimum, must do for you, including whether it guarantees a minimum number of matches. Also check to see whether the contract defines what will be considered a "match."
In addition to carefully reviewing the contract, there are other steps consumers can take to protect themselves before signing a contract with a real-world dating service. Here are a several additional tips:
- Beware of aggressive sales tactics -- Some location-based dating services with sales offices and experienced salespersons may use aggressive tactics to persuade you to sign up on the spot. In addition to using a "now or never" pitch to pressure you into signing, companies may also drag out the length of your visit, rotate salespersons, and manufacture extreme consequences for any delay on your part. Refuse to sign any contract you can't take home overnight to review;
- Get straight answers to your questions, in writing. This is especially important with regard to fees and terms of cancellation times. If the representative won't give you a straight answer, in writing, you should not sign up for the service;
- Be wary of verbal promises that are not in your contract, especially concerning the company's vast list of potential matches that meet your specific dating criteria. Inquire into the company's male to female member ratio, number of active members, whether or not they have any satisfied customers you could speak to, and what they offer in the way of a refund if the service is not successful in your case. Again, get it in writing;
- Don't pay for a contract you can't afford -- if the price is too high, chances are that the business will be able to offer you a cheaper deal. Remember -- if you sign up but can't pay the charges, your credit score could be damaged; and
- Don't sign a contract that contains terms you think are unfair. If there are contract terms you don't like, demand that they be changed or removed, in writing.
The Attorney General publishes a wide variety of consumer alerts for the benefit of Michigan consumers. For access to consumer alerts, visit the Attorney General's website.
Consumers concerned about protecting their personal information may wish to review the consumer alert, "Identity Theft Information for Michigan Consumers."
Consumers may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division for more information or to file a complaint:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form