The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has joined an international initiative to protect vulnerable consumers by sweeping dating websites for misleading offers, unclear pricing policies or consumer contracts with unfair terms.
The web search is part of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN)’s annual internet sweep, involving over 50 consumer protection agencies around the world.
“The ACCC is today sweeping the internet to ensure that dating sites are being true and fair in their dealings with customers, and provide protection from scammers,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“Online dating sites have proven to be a popular forum to meet someone special and we’re reminding this booming industry to treat customers in a fair and transparent manner.”
The ACCC is concerned that some online dating service providers may be offering ‘free’ trials that hide within the fine print that people are actually being signed up to an ongoing contract.
The ACCC has also received reports of some online dating services signing people up to long-term fixed contracts with onerous or restrictive cancellation clauses. Transparency or a lack of disclosure around automatic renewals is also a concern.
“If a ‘free’ offer isn’t really free, pricing isn’t clear, or a contract is easy to sign up to but hard to get out of, then we will find it,” Ms Rickard said.
The ACCC will also be sweeping these sites to look at what measures they have in place to protect consumers against scammers, as part of its Scams Disruption Project.
“Unfortunately the ACCC continues to hear the devastating impact of dating and romance scams, with over $16 million reported in financial losses and nearly 1700 complaints already this year,” Ms Rickard said.
“Protecting consumers is a shared responsibility and the ACCC will continue its previous work with industry to develop best practice guidelines and identify ways to protect consumers from romance scams.”
The media is invited to film ACCC staff conducting the sweep, with ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard available for interview.
Monday 15 September, 11 am - 12 pm, Level 35, 360 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.
ACCC Media: 1300 138 917 or 0408 995 408
Dating websites – Important consumer tips
- Read all the terms and conditions to make sure you know what you are signing up to and how much it will cost
- Ask your friends if they have used the site before and whether they had a positive experience
- Before signing check your options for cancelling the contract
- Set reminders in your phone or diary to cancel your subscription to avoid your subscription inadvertently rolling over for a further term
- Research and get to know the business: conduct an internet search on the name of the company and verify any contact details
- Examine the site and check for advice about safe online practices
- If you are meeting someone you’ve met on a dating site make sure you meet in a public place and tell a friend of family member where you are going
- Most of all, know who you are dealing with on these sites: if you have never met a person you are interacting with face to face, you shouldn’t be sending them money
- Any request by a person you have met on an online dating site to wire transfer funds overseas should be raising alarm bells.
The ICPEN Sweep is in its 16th year. ICPEN is made up of consumer protection authorities from over 50 countries and its main objective is to: protect consumers’ interests around the world, share information about cross-border commercial activities that may affect consumer welfare, and encourage global cooperation among law enforcement agencies.
ICPEN members also support the global online cross-border consumer complaint website, econsumer.gov which offers consumers a complaints portal and information on overseas consumer protection agencies and dispute resolution services. This can be very useful for anyone having problems with overseas traders. For further information, see the ICPEN website.
ICPEN membership: Angola, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea. Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal , Seychelles, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam, and Zambia.
The ACCC launched the Scam Disruption Project last month to help protect the Australian community from relationship scammers. For more information, visit SCAMwatch website.
In 2012 the ACCC issued dating and romance voluntary guidelines that were developed collaboratively with an industry working group to help dating websites and their users respond to scams.