JDI Online Dating Company Sued Over Fake Profiles (AKA Time To Delete Your Account)

It may be difficult to know where to look for love, but at least we know where not to: a company called JDI Dating, which is being sued for its fake dating profiles. The Federal Trade Commission is requesting a sum of $616,165 to be refunded to its nearly 12 million customers. Luckily, the company has agreed to pay the fine, but not before members of dating websites such as CupidsWand.com, FlirtCrowd.com, and FindMeLove.com (just three of the company's 18 sites) were scammed out of both money and love.

According to Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection:

JDI Dating used fake profiles to make people think they were hearing from real love interests and to trick them into upgrading to paid memberships. Adding insult to injury, users were charged automatically to renew their subscriptions – often without their consent.

Upon signing up, members received messages from "users" in their area that were impossible to access without paying for a $10 to $30 monthly subscription. The only indication that these perhaps weren't real people was a small icon in the top right corner that stands for "virtual cupid." As you can see in the photo below, the icon is barely visible, let alone recognizable to the general public:

All this raises the question of how reliable online dating actually is, and whether you can trust a company enough to put your love life in its hands. Of course, I'm less likely to trust sites with names like CupidsWand or FindMeLove.com, but even more reputable sites like OkCupid have confessed to tampering with their user profiles in the past. According to an NPR interview with Christian Rudder, the site's co-founder and president, the company has "experimented" with its dating algorithm by matching people who weren't compatible and failing to match people who were.

While I'm all for experimentation, doing so at the expense of OkCupid users instead of in a controlled testing environment doesn't sit well with me. Although it's not quite as bad as essentially catfishing members à la JDI Dating, these are still real people we're talking about, with real interests in finding love. They go to these sites because they trust companies to help them achieve what they have yet to achieve offline, and then find that their time and money have been wasted on fake profiles (in the case of JDI) or "in the name of science" (in the case of OkCupid).

It's enough to make you want to delete your profiles altogether (or, in my case, never ever sign up for a dating website). But with dating sites and apps like Tinder slowly becoming the new normal, what happens if online dating becomes your best option? In this case, we're left at the mercy of companies like JDI Dating, who are intent on securing a profit at the expense of their own users.

My advice going forward, then, is to be wary. If you enjoy online dating, or see yourself online dating in the future, make sure to select a trusted site that doesn't overwhelm you with hidden fees and whose users seem authentic (hint: pop-up profiles of people asking you to meet up probably don't qualify). In any case, I'd encourage people not to place the entire fate of their love life with a single company or website. For every profile you make, try and go out to a bar, or tag along to a friend's dinner party, in order to meet someone new. At least this way, you can trust that your motives are pure.

Image: Verónica Bautista/Flickr; Federal Trade Commission