The federal government is accusing dating website Match.com of catfishing its own users.
The Federal Trade Commission is suing Match Group, which owns Match.com (as well as Tinder, OKCupid and PlentyOfFish), for allegedly using fake love interest ads to persuade consumers to pay for subscriptions.
Match.com lets people create profiles for free, but requires a subscription to be able to respond to messages. Match sent emails to non-subscribers telling them they had received a response on the site. But millions of emails referred to notices that came from accounts already flagged as likely fake, the FTC said Wednesday.
"Match had blocked some of these suspicious accounts from sending messages to its paying subscribers, but didn't give the same protection to free account users," the FTC said in a blog post. The people who then subscribed in response to these messages, were potentially exposed to scammers. The FTC says that practice is unfair, placing people at risk of romance scams so that Match could make more money.
"Online dating services obviously shouldn't be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line," Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a press release.
Prices for Match.com subscriptions vary depending on length, from $20-plus to $30-plus a month depending on the length of time a user subscribes for.
The FTC said hundreds of thousands of people subscribed to Match.com after receiving communications from fake profiles.
The FTC is also alleging that Match didn't adequately disclose the requirements that consumers needed to get Match's offer of a free six-month subscription if they did not "meet someone special," and that it didn't provide simple enough subscription-cancellation practices.
The FTC started investigating Match.com in March 2017, the company said in a statement. The FTC pushed to settle with Match for a $60 million fine, but negotiations broke down, leading to the filing of the lawsuit Wednesday.
Match Group said it blocks 96% of fake accounts and bots within a day. It said the government was making "completely meritless allegations supported by consciously misleading figures," and that it would "vigorously" defend itself in court.
Match Group shares fell nearly 2% to around $71.50 on the news. The public company's controlling shareholder is IAC/InterActiveCorp.
With reporting by The Associated Press.