News item

Don't let love make you blind on dating websites

HandHeartUK consumers hoping to find love around the time of Valentine's Day are being urged to understand exactly what they are getting into when they sign up for dating websites.

Complaints about dating websites are becoming more frequent says consumer advice organisation UK European Consumer Centre, which gives advice and support to consumers in dispute with traders based in a European country outside the UK.

UK consumers were in dispute over their efforts to find love online with EU traders based in a variety of countries in 2012; 55 complaints and enquiries were received about dating websites during this time.

Andy Allen, UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) Director, said: “Consumers should ensure they know what they are getting into when they sign up to dating websites. Looking for a partner can be an emotive issue. If you are looking for love online, you are often in an emotional place which means you can be quite vulnerable and trusting towards both the people you are likely to meet as well as organisations providing an online dating service.

“Complaints span a variety of issues, but are often made by consumers who have entered into contracts, sometimes on a trial basis, but have been unable to cancel and in some cases are being pursued for payment by a debt collector.

"In some cases, traders have denied receiving the cancellation within the correct time limit laid down by their terms and conditions and will now not allow cancellation until the consumer pays the balance for the whole of the period of the contract. In other cases, consumers may have signed up for a limited period trial - say one month, three months or six months -  and not realised that the trader would extend the membership if the consumer did not cancel. In at least one case the consumer was alerted by her credit card company.

"We really do urge consumers looking for love on dating websites to exercise caution and to make sure they know what they are getting themselves into."

Our general advice to UK consumers considering signing up to a dating website is:
• Thoroughly check the dating website's terms and conditions, which may include consumers' obligations, before you sign up. This should contain any cancellation period. In some cases, these terms and conditions can be quite long and appear complicated, but it is important that consumers understand what they are agreeing to.
• Check out a website's 'how to' section if there is one, even if you think you know how they work: each site may operate slightly differently.
• Check the website for the company's address and full contract details. If it is not easy to find, ask yourself why?
• Ensure the site’s payment page is secure – look out for the ‘s’ in https. A padlock on the payment screen is also a mark of security.
• Consumers would only be covered under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (where the credit card provider can be jointly responsible for any problems that may arise) if a credit card is used for part of the cost (and the total cost of the service or goods is more than £100).
• The E-Commerce Directive dictates minimum levels of information that a web trader based within Europe must provide to consumers, including the name of the trader and geographical address plus email address. An acknowledgement of receipt of the consumer’s order must also be sent.
• Remember – a web address is no indication of where a trader is based. For example, if the trader has a .co.uk web address, this does not mean the trader is based in the UK.
• Consumers using a dating website would find that they no longer have the seven working day cooling-off period protection which the Distance Selling Directive provides if the service starts immediately (and this is explained in advance in writing in the terms and conditions).

Andy added: “Whilst there are many reputable dating websites whose heart is undoubtedly in the right place, there are also those whom consumers would be wise to think twice about signing up to. Like any transaction, signing up to dating websites has risks associated with it, but in the light of the fact that there has been an increase in complaints over the past few years, we would urge consumers to take more care, to check the websites' terms and conditions and to ensure they know exactly what they are signing up to."

ENDS
Notes to Editors

For further information please contact UK European Consumer Centre’s press office on 08456 08 96 06.

• UK European Consumer Centre consumer complaint line – 08456 04 05 03

The UK European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net). There are 29 centres covering Europe, plus Iceland and Norway. The aim of the network is to provide advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK. The Network will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint.

UK ECC can provide advice in the following main areas: buying goods and services, online shopping, internet auctions, holidays, timeshare and holiday clubs, air travel.

UK ECC is co-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and the European Commission.

The UK ECC service is delivered by the Trading Standards Institute (www.tsi.org.uk)

Media queries should sent to ecc@tsi.org.uk or by phone on 08456 08 96 06.

• The UK ECC provides advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK and will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint.

• Consumers can make contact with the UK European Consumer Centre via the website – www.ukecc.net – or by phone on 08456 04 05 03 weekdays between 10am and 3pm.

• If in doubt before you buy, contact our sister organisation – the European Consumer Centre for Services – for pre-purchasing advice: www.ukecc-services.net