Dating services have always relied on the spicy thrill of the unknown. Who among us hasn’t felt the pull of attractive singles in our area, clamoring to meet up and maybe even… find love?! It’s an advertising tactic that skates by on its technical truth: You are, at any given moment, probably near a hot person. But one dating supergroup has officially flown too close to the sun by allegedly promising its users that they were objects of desire in order to get them to pay up.
The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against the Match Group (which also owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, and PlentyofFish) on Wednesday over messages Match.com sent to non-subscribers, falsely alerting them that someone expressed interest in their profile and urging them to pay for the platform in order to find out who their secret admirer might be. The FTC is calling this tactic “deceptive” advertising and has raised concerns about “other allegedly deceptive and unfair practices,” like promises of free subscriptions and deliberate obstacles set up for users looking to cancel their paid accounts.
Specifically, the FTC has taken issue with the fact that the dating service allegedly knew that many of the messages, likes, and views it notified non-subscribers about came from grifters looking for a romance scam victim or their next phishing come-up, not actual interested real-life people. Some of the user vulnerability could stem from the fact that the majority of Match.com’s customers skew older than the ones on other popular dating apps, with an average age of 45 years old.
“online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release about the lawsuit. The Match Group, for its part, countered the FTC’s charges in its own statement that cites the “time, money, and emotional capital” it has committed to fighting fraud.
This isn’t the first time the Match Group’s actions have raised concerns in the business world, either. After the company acquired a majority share of Hinge in February, speculation stirred about whether the FTC would investigate it for antitrust reasons. Match.com may face consequences for its supposedly shady email alerts, which it stopped sending out as of May 2018. Until then, perhaps be careful of any service that is promising “hot singles in your area.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Katie Way on Twitter .