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Howard City woman scammed on dating site

With Valentine’s Day upon us, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning people that success stories in ads for online dating services can make it sound like true love is just a click away. But the BBB advises consumers to be aware of the limitations, costs and terms of the services as well as the potential for fraud if your match turns out to be a thief—as happened to a woman from the Howard City area.

The BBB said the woman reported she lost $134,000 to a romance scam. She said she met the man on an online dating site and took the conversations off line at his request. He was overseas on business and was due a large inheritance. One day he informed the woman his bank accounts were locked up and he couldn’t get home. In all she loaned the man $134,000 to help keep his company afloat, in exchange for shares of his company. 

“I quickly fell in love and was thinking with my heart and not my head,” she told the BBB. Once it was time for the man to finally return to Michigan he ceased all communication and the woman was never paid back.

“While some consumers have found happiness using a dating service, others have been disappointed in the quality of matches or the number of suitable people they were able to meet using the service,” said Phil Catlett, President of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan. “Meeting people online may sound easy and safe, but consumers need to keep their guard up to avoid being swindled, hurt or worse.”

The Howard City woman’s story is similar to one reported by a woman from the Lake City, Mich. area. The recently widowed woman met a man through Facebook who was working overseas. She eventually lent him $1,000 to help him get funds back into the United States. Once the initial loan was made the person began asking for more money. “He was sincere and charming and religious. And I fell for him,” she told the BBB.

BBB published an in-depth investigative study on romance scams in 2018, as well as a follow-up study in 2019 about the potential for romance scam victims used as money mules.

BBB received more than 1,100 complaints about dating services last year. Many concern billing and collection issues. Poor customer service, refund issues, advertising or sales practices also prompt complaints. Often, customers complain that it is difficult to cancel the service because it is automatically renewed.

Even if you don’t sign up for a dating service, romance scams through social media and email are quite common. Law enforcement and other agencies get thousands of complaints every year from people who have lost money through online dating or social media or email connections. Criminals posing as potential romantic “matches” may lead victims on for a while, then suddenly claim they’ve got big medical bills or some other emergency need for money. Some criminals are overseas, making it difficult for authorities to pursue them or for victims to get their money back.

Consumers need to make sure they understand what they are signing up for when they use an online dating service. Read any contracts, terms or conditions carefully to understand how you will be charged and what you need to do to cancel. Some consumers complained that they signed up for a free trial, but their credit cards were charged before they could cancel.

Common complaints about dating services include:

*Failure to match clients with compatible singles. Complaints included non-smokers matched with people who smoke; well-educated people matched with less-educated ones; religious people matched with atheists; or matches that lived too far away or were married.

*Use of intimidating or duplicitous sales tactics: Complainants reported being yelled at, being told to not be so picky or being completely ignored by the companies involved.

*Failure to deliver: Complainants were told the service had a database of thousands of singles, but they didn’t receive the promised number of dates or introductions. Others said a singles club sponsored events to bring singles together, but the events didn’t live up to their billing.

*Minimum enrollment period and inability to cancel: Online dating services normally require a minimum membership period and charge a monthly fee. Contracts often are renewed automatically. Either the customer didn’t realize the steps needed to cancel the account, or the consumer took the necessary steps but billing continued anyway.

BBB offers the following advice on matchmaking and online dating services:

*Don’t fall in love with the advertising. Be skeptical of claims such as “an exclusive network of people,” “for sincere daters only” or “beautiful singles like you.”

*Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Sales associates may tell you that a low price is only good for that day and ask you to sign a contract immediately. You should read the contract carefully and make sure you understand it.

*Know how to break up. Consumers should not assume that they will stop being billed once the contract runs out. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Usually you must call the company or send written instructions to avoid being billed again. Read cancellation policies before you sign up.

*Beware of demands by a match to send money. Some scams that match men with foreign women typically include a request to send money to pay for a trip to the United States, using a wire transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union. The woman never makes the trip, and the money can’t be recovered.

*Do your homework. Ask to speak to other members or customers of the service about their experiences. Check a BBB Business Profile of the service by going online to bbb.org.

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