Can Dating Sites Post Fake Profiles to Lure In Members?


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It is the end of a long week, and you find yourself at home wishing you had something to do. But, tired of being a fifth wheel to all of your friends in relationships, you decide it is time to join the millions of other people who are online looking for a date. Unfortunately, some of those millions may not be real people after all. Is it legal for dating sites to use fake content to lure in new members?

There are literally hundreds of different online dating sites now, ranging from simple social networking type sites to actual matchmaking services to mail-order bride/groom sites, and everything in between. With so many options, competition can be fierce. Of course, the best way for sites to compete is by showing lots of attractive and responsive members online; people not afraid to strike up a conversation and get the ball rolling for romance. So, what better way for a website to put the proverbial thumb on the scales to convince you to use their service than by creating fake profiles and sending fake messages?

Unfortunately for consumers, sites have become very savvy about this business practice. Learning from earlier mistakes made by sites who engaged in such trickery, many dating sites are now incorporating into their terms of service that they are entitled to create fake profiles. The sites justify this practice as a means of enhancing the experience, encouraging interaction, and monitoring compliance by members with the terms of service of the site. Of course, since most users never actually read the terms of service, this policy slides by unnoticed by millions who sign up, pay their fees, and then wonder why they are suddenly less popular than when they were a free member and can never seem to get someone to actually agree to a date.

While this policy is probably legal under a contract theory (though it does border on intentional misrepresentation), the federal government has taken notice. The Federal Trace Commission (FTC) monitors online advertising. It has, in recent years, taken issue with the proliferation of false claims on the internet and has begun pursuing administrative and legal action against those who engage in such practices. Many legal analysts predict dating sites that use fake members may be next on their agenda, and there is precedent to explain why. Popular dating site Match.com was the target of legal troubles when it was revealed that it was keeping the profiles of inactive members as a way of boosting membership numbers and appearing more popular than it actually was.

When and how the FTC may pursue these sites remains unclear. As always, the best policy is to follow one's instincts and common sense. If you are instantly bombarded by emails upon making a free dating profile on a site that requires you to pay a fee to read or respond to emails, or if you notice an unusually high number of attractive singles in your area, you might be on a site engaging in such practices. Unfortunately, it is not clear how one can protect themselves against these practices other than by sticking to larger, more mainstream sites that are likely to be better regulated by groups like the FTC or as a result of lawsuits.

If you think you have been the victim of such a site, one option may be to contact a local attorney who has experience with commercial class action lawsuits. Although your individual claim may be for amounts that are relatively minuscule, creating a class action lawsuit with thousands or even millions of other users suddenly magnifies the legitimacy of your grievance and can bring these practices to a halt. Best of all, the legal services will likely be free to you and, as long as you do not mind the inconvenience of a few meetings with attorneys, hearings, and possibly a trial, you may also be able to get your money back from the website.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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