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ACM: dating websites must stop deception using fake profiles

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has found that there are still dating websites out there that use fake profiles without being clear about such practices. Consumers are thus misled, since no actual contact is possible with the person who is described in the fake profile. If a dating website uses fake profiles, it must clearly say so. If a chat option is available, it must be clear whether the consumer will chat with the actual person described in that profile or with a so-called ‘chat operator’ using a fake profile.

ACM calls on consumers who have been harmed by dating sites using fake profiles to file reports with its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. ACM will use such reports as input for its oversight activities.

Investigation into dating sites

ACM had previously investigated 17 dating websites using fake profiles. The companies behind these websites have agreed on the following commitments with ACM:

  • Consumers must receive clear information about the status of the profiles used (indicating which ones are fake), so that consumers have all the relevant information before entering into an agreement;
  • When asked, the chat operator must be honest about the capacity in which they chat;
  • Vulnerable consumers must be afforded additional protection: the chat operator must warn vulnerable consumers that they are chatting with a chat operator, and not with the person described in the profile.

The companies behind the 17 websites agreed to apply these principles to all of their websites in the Netherlands and Denmark in order to end this form of online deception. This case also makes clear to other providers of similar services what rules they need to comply with.

One element of these commitments was that Dutch consumers that were customers of the websites in question during the period under investigation and that were harmed, would be able to receive financial compensation for having been misled. Approximately 2,500 consumers have since come forward. They have received financial compensations, totaling over 2 million euros, and with individual compensations of up to tens of thousands of euros.

ACM has established that the companies have since complied with the commitments. ACM will continue to keep a close watch on them. Some of the previously investigated websites have switched hands. Should the new owners not comply with consumer protection rules, ACM will take action.

Tips for consumers

On ACM ConsuWijzer, ACM offers consumers tips on how to find out whether a dating website uses fake profiles. These websites earn money with chatting, not with ‘dating.’ This is how to spot such websites:

  • The website charges a fee for each sent message (possibly in the form of ‘credits’);
  • Profiles and responses are often too good to be true (and are therefore not true);
  • You never manage to set up a date or meeting with the person behind the profile that was used to initiate the conversation.

In 2020, ACM pays special attention to online deception (in Dutch. An English version will be pusblished soon).