Looking for love online? Beware of rip-off websites
THOSE looking for love this Valentine's Day have been warned that now is also the peak time for complaints about online dating services.
The European Consumer Centre Ireland recorded a spike in complaints from customers who've lost hundreds of euros in unwanted renewals of their subscriptions to online romance services.
Some customers have been stung to the tune of over €200 despite deleting their profiles.
Others had to jump through hoops to get their money back after cancelling.
Despite the prevalence of problems with online websites, it is believed many customers are too embarrassed to complain to a third party when a problem emerges.
ECC director Ann Neville said that unwary consumers were losing out to a practice that was "more Halloween than Valentine's".
"With Valentine's week seeing a spike in complaints about dating sites at the ECC, now is the time for people to be extra cautious," she said.
One in five complaints about online dating agencies is received in January and February, with many relating to "free" trial memberships that ended up turning into costly subscriptions the customer didn't want.
In one case, an Irish woman took out a free month's trial with a site based in Luxembourg, with an email confirmation that she cancel at least seven days prior to the end of the period. Despite cancelling 12 days before the end of the trial, the website charged her €179 for a further membership period.
Following intervention from the ECC and its sister organisation in Luxembourg, the customer eventually received a refund.
However others were not so lucky - as in a similar case, a customer who signed up for a supposedly free trial and subsequently had €179 deducted was unable to get her money back.
This was because she had not noticed an email condition at the time of signing up requiring her to cancel 14 days before the end of the free trial.
And another Irish consumer signed up with a UK dating site, but later decided to delete her profile and let her membership lapse after a year. However, she was charged €220 on her card and the company was able to point to terms and conditions on the site setting out its cancellation policy, which meant it was not possible to challenge the charge.
The ECC said that people needed to be extra cautious if signing up for these services.
It advised them to study the small print carefully and comply with any cancellation instructions.
They should also remember that under EU consumer law they have a 14-day cooling off period when entering an online contract allowing them cancel without having to specify a reason.