I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but next week I’m being interviewed by the media for a new prime time show in the UK. I’ll be discussing what we do on the site. More information to follow as and when I’m allowed to say anything.
Something to note when it comes to image searches. Scammers often rotate the images to try and get past image searches. If you’re going to do a search, rotate the image after it and do another search if you don’t get anything the first time.
When doing image searches, we recommend two sites. The main one, and the one most know about is Google image search at https://images.google.com/ but there’s also the lesser known http://tineye.com/ that’s also worth checking out. These are great tools to see if the photos you’ve been sent have been used elsewhere.
Note: Steve Baker, Director of the FTC’s Midwest Region Office, will take reporters’ questions by phone:
Date: October 29, 2014
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Call-in: (800) 230-1951, confirmation number 341247
Call-in lines, for news media only, will open at 1:45 p.m.
In its first law enforcement action against an online dating service, the Federal Trade Commission has reached asettlement that prohibits JDI Dating Ltd., an England-based company, from using fake, computer-generated profiles to trick users into upgrading to paid memberships and charging these members a recurring monthly fee without their consent. The settlement also requires the defendants to pay $616,165 in redress.
“JDI Dating used fake profiles to make people think they were hearing from real love interests and to trick them into upgrading to paid memberships,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Adding insult to injury, users were charged automatically to renew their subscriptions – often without their consent.”
According to a complaint filed by the FTC, JDI Dating and William Mark Thomas operate a worldwide dating service via 18 websites, including cupidswand.com, flirtcrowd.com and findmelove.com. The defendants offered a free plan that allowed users to set up a profile with personal information and photos. As soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest or a desire to meet. However, users were unable to respond to these messages without upgrading to a paid membership. Membership plans cost from $10 to $30 per month, with subscriptions generally ranging from one to 12 months.
The messages were almost always from fake, computer-generated profiles – “Virtual Cupids” – created by the defendants, with photos and information designed to closely mimic the profiles of real people. A small “v” encircled by a “C” on the profile page was the only indication that the profiles were fake. Users were not likely to see – much less understand – this icon. The fake profiles and messages caused many users to upgrade to paid subscriptions.
In addition, the defendants failed to tell subscribers that their subscriptions would be renewed automatically and that they would continue to be charged until they canceled. To avoid additional charges, members had to cancel at least 48 hours before their subscriptions ended. Information about the automatic renewal feature was buried in multiple pages of densely worded text that consumers could see only by clicking a “Terms and Conditions” hyperlink. Consumers were not required to access this hyperlink as part of the enrollment process.
The Commission’s complaint charges JDI Dating and Thomas with violating the FTC Act by misrepresenting the source of the communications from fake profiles and by failing to disclose the automatic renewal terms. The complaint also charges the defendants with violating the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA) by failing to: disclose clearly the terms of the negative-option plan, obtain express informed consent before charging consumers, and provide a simple way to stop recurring charges.
The settlement order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting material facts about any product or service and, from failing to disclose clearly to potential members that they will receive communications from virtual profiles who are not real people. The order requires that, before obtaining consumers’ billing information for a product with a negative-option feature, the defendants must clearly disclose the name of the seller or provider, a product description and its cost, the length of any trial period, the fact that charges will continue unless the consumer cancels, the deadline for canceling, and the mechanism to stop recurring charges. The order also bars the defendants from using consumers’ billing information to obtain payment without their informed consent.
The injunction also bars the defendants from misrepresenting refund and cancellation policies, and failing to disclose clearly the terms of a negative option plan – before a consumer consents to pay. In addition, the defendants are prohibited from failing to honor a refund or cancellation request that complies with their policies, and failing to provide a simple mechanism for consumers to stop recurring charges – at least as simple as the mechanism consumers used to initiate them.
The order also prohibits JDI Dating and Thomas from violating the ROSCA and selling or otherwise benefitting from customers’ personal information, and requires them to pay $616,165 in redress.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and proposed stipulated order for permanent injunction was 5-0. The complaint and stipulated final order were filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on October 27, 2014.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC onFacebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
Office of Public Affairs
Steven M. Wernikoff
FTC’s Midwest Region
Every year, as Christmas approaches, we find the scammers dramatically up their game. Scam emails being sent to my catcher account (an account set up purely to harvest scam emails) can triple, as can the number of messages received by scammers on dating sites. The rush has already started. Be extra vigilant this time of year.
Recently I had an email offering to help our site’s SEO score. No big thing in itself, but here’s the thing that made me laugh. They were offering to help me raise the rank for the word “Wayne” from page 30 something in Google to page 1. Why? Why in the hell would I want THAT word to be picked up over all the other words on the site. Words like scam, 419, blackmail, Skype, sextortion, refugee, romance, survivor and about 6 dozen other words that are much more important than my first name. Where did they pull that word from? Other than out their ass of course.
We’ve been working on making a few changes to the front page of our site. Our two main links are now much more prominent, and we also have links to some of the media articles we’ve been featured in. Still a few things to do, but it’s already looking better than it used to.
Recently we’ve started seeing more and more Ivory Coast scammers switching to blackmail instead of their usual style of refugee scam. This is a concern for us, as they’re more likely to continue trying to contact the victim than the Moroccans or Pinoys.
If someone you’ve only ever met online asks you for money, odds are it’s a scam.
Many people have become frustrated over the number of scammers on dating sites. Some even feel there are no real people looking for love online anymore, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, scammers are a major problem, but if you educate yourself on the ways to spot them then it’s possible to actually find love online. Try our short quiz and learn more about how to spot the scammers from the genuine people. You can find it at http://www.scamsurvivors.com/romancequiz/#/