It's no fun being single on Valentine's Day, when everyone seems coupled up and completely, utterly, annoyingly in love. But don't let your self-bought bag of chocolate hearts turn into an empty bank account.
"People are willing to pay to find true love," said Tom Bartholomy, president of the Better Business Bureau in North Carolina. The amount people will spend on U.S. online dating services this year is nearly $1 billion, he says.
Complaints against dating services as a whole have been on the rise, particularly when people try to get out of online contracts.In one-on-one dating services, people can pay into the thousands of dollars to be personally set-up by a matchmaker. But complaints are surfacing of high pressure sales tactics, fewer arranged dates and dissastified customers not meeting the "caliber" of singles promised. One South Carolina business, the Perkins Group (formerly known as Great Expectations) received 19 complaints in 36 months about contracts, refunds and billing issues.
Online dating companies didn't fare so fabulously either. Typically, people sign up for a one-month, six-month or year-long account with a monthly fee, charged to a credit card or removed from a checking account. But BBB officials said the contracts are automatically renewed when they expire. That's why two-thirds of the complaints cite billing issues, particularly related to canceling after signing up.
Match.com and eHarmony both received A+ grades from the BBB. Although both companies received complaints (927 over three years for Match, 1,064 over three years for eHarmony) the companies worked to resolve the issues.
Cupid.com, on the other hand, is failing with an F grade. The dating service had 17 complaints due to refunds, billing and collection issues. Three of them were unanswered and others were unresolved, leading to the poor grade.
Zoosk, which just launched in 2007, received an A- from the BBB, with 132 complaints in 36 months. A majority involved billing issues and 121 of the complaints were resolved.
The BBB offers a few tips to hopeful romantics out there:
1. Be aware of exaggerated advertising claims that promise more than they deliver.
2. Check out services with the Better Business Bureau in your area.
3. Read the contract first, knowing what the conditions are to end the contract and what the service promises to provide.
4. Know how to end it: Many contracts automatically renew. Some sites have an opt-out clause, but be sure to check your credit card and checking accounts to make sure it's stopped.
Valentine's Day Dilemma: Dating Service Complaints on the Rise