7 Guidelines to Stop Online Dating Sites from Misusing Your Personal Information


Last Updated: August 13th, 2020

Everyone knows online dating can be crazy and fun, what with setting up profiles and posting just the right pictures. But when you sign up for an online dating service, you might not be prepared for how much email you will receive. Honestly, you might get more stuff in your inbox than you bargained for.

Once you've signed up and given them your email address, the emails start. These are the most common types:

  • Notifications that someone is interested in meeting you
  • Notifications of "possible matches"
  • Newsletters and announcements about upcoming events
  • Promotions from partners of the dating site
  • Phishing emails from cyber-criminals pretending to be your online dating service

All these emails can really add up and smother your inbox. Within a week of signing up, you might feel ready to close your account with them, just to stop the deluge of emails.

Unfortunately, when online daters do try to cut it off, dating sites can sometimes be less than responsive. One frustrated consumer filed this complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about Spark Network, which owns Christian Mingle and a slew of other dating sites:

"The company refuses to remove me from their database... I have attempted to get myself removed from this company's advertising database, but they refuse (or simply do not acknowledge) to remove my email address. They will not provide a phone number and attempting to remove myself online is futile."

When dating sites abuse your email or phone, or refuse to stop sending messages at your request, this is a misuse of your personal information. While not quite as prevalent on online dating sites as scams or billing and collection issues, misuse of online dater's personal information can be stressful and time-consuming to fix. In some cases, it can pose a real risk to your identity and finances.

Fortunately, as a consumer, there are actions you can take to eliminate this stress and risk. You can start by abiding by these seven iron-clad rules:

1. Know What You're Agreeing To

When you sign up for an online dating service, that service is required by law to provide you with a document that tells you what you're agreeing to as one of their users. This document is usually called a privacy policy or terms and conditions, and you'll usually see a link to it on the dating site's sign-up page with a message like "By clicking 'submit' you agree to abide by AcmeDating.com's terms and conditions."

If you click on the link to the document, you'll find a page full of small-print legalese-it's not exactly page-turner material. So why put yourself through the laborious task of reading it?

Because this document spells out what your dating site is planning to do with your personal information once you click 'submit'. And when you click 'submit', you are officially giving them permission to do everything in that document. So, to avoid giving someone the permission to do inappropriate things with your email or phone number, it's in your best interest to read this document before you click submit.

On the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) page on the evils of spam, they warn:

"Check the privacy policy before you submit your email address to a website. See if it allows the company to sell your email to others. You might decide not to submit your email address to websites that won't protect it."

2. Know What Your Rights Are

Speaking of the FTC, they regard unwanted emails the same way they regard uninvited telemarketing calls, as a nuisance and even harassment. Certain rights prevent companies from abusing your personal information.

First, know that it is illegal for companies to send you emails without your permission. If companies are found to be emailing people without their permission-or without making them aware that they're giving that permission-they can get in big trouble. So if you are receiving emails from a dating site and you're certain that you didn't give them your permission by signing up for their service, you need to notify the authorities immediately.

Second, if you're receiving these emails because you implicitly gave them permission to when you signed up, you have the right to demand that they limit or discontinue their emails to you. This is similar to the laws that force telemarketers to place your phone number on their "Do Not Call" list when you ask them to. If they continue to send you emails after you've requested them not to, it becomes harassment and that is illegal.

3. Adjust Your Settings

When you feel that you are receiving too many emails from your dating site, your first move should be to adjust your settings to your liking. Nearly all of the top online dating sites provide pages where their users can modify their email settings.

For example, OKCupid.com lets users change their email settings on their account pages, including limiting how much email they receive or unsubscribing from their emails altogether.

ChristianMingle also lets their users unsubscribe from various types of emails, including newsletters, partner offers, notifications of possible matches, and messages from "secret admirers."

If you can't readily find your email settings page on your dating site, consult your site's 'Help' page or contact customer service.

4. Beware of phishers

Cyber-criminals aren't just targeting banks and retailers anymore. In 2014, cyber-criminals launched mass phishing attacks against Match.com, Christian Mingle, PlentyOfFish, eHarmony, Chemistry.com, and other major dating sites. Their goal: to steal online daters' usernames and passwords.

This means online daters need to constantly be on alert not just for too many emails from dating sites and their partners, but for emails that tell them that something has gone wrong with their online dating accounts and that they need to click on a suspicious-looking link to fix the problem.

5. Mark it as spam

Most email providers allow you to mark emails as spam. Most of the major email providers, like Yahoo and Gmail, provide this feature, which accomplishes two things at once. First, it reroutes any future emails from the marked email address to your spam folder, so it doesn't clog up your inbox. Second, it flags the offending email address in your email provider's database. If enough people mark it as spam, all of their emails will be blocked by that email provider.

This is an easy yet subtle way to tell your dating site, "Thanks, but no thanks," and force them to reconsider how much email they send out.

6. File complaints with the BBB and the FTC

If changing your settings and working directly with your dating site's customer service team fails to bring the flow of email down to a level that you're comfortable with, your next option is to escalate the situation by bringing in a third party.

The BBB and the FTC provide places where consumers can file complaints about companies. When filing a complaint, be sure to be as descriptive, factual, and honest as possible. This ensures that your complaint will be resolved faster and more smoothly. The BBB and/or FTC will then take your complaint to your dating service find out what occurred and then get the situation resolved. This process usually takes a few weeks.

No dating site wants to get a bad rating or risk their accreditation with the BBB. Similarly, no company wants the bad press of being investigated by the FTC. This factor works in your favor when it comes to getting your complaint resolved.

7. Submit a consumer review

Consumer review sites have never been a more popular way for consumers to find out if a company is worth their time or not. That's why online dating services pay close attention to these reviews and why you should take the time to post your own review of your experience with your online dating service.

This directs consumers like yourself to the best dating services and away from the less reputable ones. More importantly, it puts pressure on your online dating service to improve and treat their customers fairly.

Sending a Message

Ultimately, being a good consumer means knowing what your dating service can do with your personal information-and especially what they can't do. By taking the right action, you will keep your inbox uncluttered while getting the most out of your online dating experience. Best of all, it keeps your online dating service honest.

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