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Are online dating sites posting fake profiles to lure subscribers?

Users claim sites are sending fake messages pretending they’re from potential mates.

CLEVELAND — Online dating has become a $3 billion dollar industry, with about 50 million people looking for love. Some are paying upwards of $60 dollars a month, and understandably, the dating sites want to hang on to that business.

Many have found love while others say it's a money pit where the companies "themselves" are leading people on.

Part of the reason is because of the way these sites operate. For the ones that require a paid subscription, many automatically renew users at the end of the term.

You can change that setting so that the site has to get your approval. But some users say, as soon as their membership is about to expire, all of a sudden they get very popular.

When that happened to online dater Frank Long, he filed a complaint with consumer site Ripoffreport.com. 

"I just thought, you know, this is just too fishy," he said.

Long signed up for Match.com. He says every day several women checked out his profile. But right as his membership was ending, "It seemed like suddenly, boy, I was getting some very attractive women and also a lot of women that were younger than I was looking at," he said.

Maybe a coincidence in this case, but Fil De Banate with the Federal Trade Commission has seen this before. 

"It's allegedly a company using a tool within its site to keep customers from leaving," he said about Long’s complaint.

His agency sued and then settled with a U.K. company which operated 18 dating sites for allegedly sending messages from fake users and luring people into becoming paid subscribers.

“There were ‘Virtual Cupids’ sending messages and users didn't know they were fake, but computer generated," he said.

In fact, some of the biggest dating sites, many of them under the Match.com group, are accused by users of doing the same.

Long says, "It's a good business model but it's a bit duplicitous."

We found multiple posts on complaint sites, from men and women, questioning whether the companies were sending fake messages. One user, who filed a complaint about the dating site Zoosk on ConsumerAffairs.com, said that during their free trial, they received several comments and offers to chat. But once they paid up, ‘nothing, zero, zip, nada!'

Another dater who was on the site Our Time, complained to PissedConsumer.com, claiming, "Before my membership was about to expire I suddenly received upwards of 91 views overnight."

Luckily when Long renewed, he ended up finding someone. But he says he’s waiting for the next round of “suitors” when his subscription ends.

"It's going to be interesting to see, at the end of this cycle if I suddenly get popular again," he said.

When we contacted the company, which also operates OurTime.com, about the allegations from some of their users, they issued the following statement:

"The claim that Match contacts users with fake profiles just as their memberships are about to expire is categorically false.

At Match, the safety and well-being of our community is a top priority, and we take the issue of fraud very seriously. Match has a dedicated team and sophisticated technology that patrols for fraud and reviews each and every member profile to block IP addresses from high alert countries, stolen credit card numbers and red flag language in profiles."

Zoosk did not respond to our request for comment.

If you have a complaint about a dating website, or any business, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or online at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

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