The 5 Pitfalls of Online Dating (and How to Protect Yourself Against Them)

By: Marcus Varner | January 13, 2015 (Edited July 7, 2017)

Thinking of trying out online dating? Maybe you're considering going back to online dating? Well, get ready for some bumps, bruises, and, if you choose the right online dating service and play your cards right, maybe even some romance.

But how do you know which online dating site is best for you? Even as sites like eHarmony claim that 438 people get married every day through their site, online dating services can also be frustrating-and I'm not talking about just that guy who insists on taking all of his photos with his 60 cats or that lady who went a little too far in Photoshop. No, there are hazards on online dating sites that put these embarrassments to shame.

As an online dating consumer, you might not be able to escape the discomfort or anxiety of searching for a significant other, but you should expect to receive the service you paid for, have your concerns resolved when they arise, and be safe while doing it. The bad news is, this isn't always the case on online dating sites. The good news is, by educating yourself about the pitfalls of online dating sites, you can avoid many of these problems and deal with them swiftly when they do arise. Let's get started...

1. Liars and Scammers

While lying is actually fairly widespread in online dating, most of it is benign, with men and women exaggerating their dimensions, their paychecks, or their lifestyles. Unfortunately, there are also those who take deception to a whole other level to harm you or your identity. Where people can put up a profile picture and slap just any personal information up on a page, there will always be those who use this medium to deceive and prey on unsuspecting people.

As with social media, online dating sites are sometimes used by predators to lure people into dangerous encounters. For instance, a predator will set up a false profile and tell unsuspecting online daters exactly what they want to hear, according to the information provided on their profiles. When they feel like they have the online dater hooked, they will push them to meet them at a physical location.

This same tactic is employed by identity thieves. But instead of meeting at a physical location to do you harm, they need only convince you to join them in an online chat. Once they get you away from the online dating site, they sneakily talk you into giving up Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, etc.

What can you do about it?
Watch for the warning signs. According to none other than Dr. Phil, these include profile data that just doesn't match up, profile pictures that look like they've been lifted from modeling websites, obvious grammar and spelling mistakes, and moving way too fast. If they try to get you to leave your dating site for a more intimate chat session right off the bat, before you're even had a chance to get to know them, you should also be on alert. Instead of the model-investment banker-world traveller you think you're talking to, you could be talking to an identity thief.

If you see these signs, your first move should be to verify their identity. Dr. Phil recommends this neat trick:

"Ask them to take a photo holding a [sign with a] unique phrase or their own name on it and send it to you... Someone reluctant to speak on live video, claiming shyness or that they can't find a camera, should be a red flag."

You can also verify their identity by asking them questions about the specific items in their profile. For example, if they say they're from New York City, ask them specific questions about living in New York. If they love hockey, ask them what their favorite team is. Identity thieves or predators will be unable to do these things satisfactorily, giving vague, generic, or totally unrelated answers.

If you see any of these red flags, put your own safety before the feelings of the person on the other end. Certainly, don't be afraid to end a conversation, block a person, or report them to your site's customer service representatives if you suspect that they are identity thieves or predators. By weeding out these bad apples, you're taking action as a consumer to make your online dating experience, and those of others, safer and better.

2. Billing and Collection

If you look at complaints filed by online daters about these sites to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), you see that a significant number of them revolve around billing. This can be consumers who claim they unsubscribed from a service, only to continue being charged. It can also be those who signed up for a free trial, but were charged for it, even though they discontinued their subscription.

This continues to be a weakness of online dating services, but that doesn't mean you, as their consumer, should suffer in silence. If left unchecked, these monthly or annual charges can add up, hurting your wallet and heaping frustration on your already frustrated dating life.

What can you do about it?
First, talk to their customer service team. Many of the top online dating sites are pretty good about resolving these types of complaints and even have places where you can go to turn off an auto-renewal setting on your account.

However, in the event that the site or their customer service cannot or will not fix your billing issue, you should submit a complaint to the BBB website. They will forward your complaint to your online dating site, give them 14 days to respond, and keep you in the loop as that happens. According to their website, "complaints are usually closed within 30 business days."

Regardless of how your complaint is resolved, you should always submit a user review and let other consumers know how your online dating service met your needs and responded to your concerns. This is another way of making your voice heard, as a consumer, and prompting online dating services to improve their services.

3. Misuse of Personal Information

Some online dating services get called out for sending out too many emails and spamming their members. Others are known for surreptitiously selling their members' personal information to other related companies, sometimes without getting their members' permission.

The result is something you're probably all too familiar with: lots of spam emails and junk mail that you never agreed to, often so much that it ruins your online dating experience. Whether or not you care for spam and junk mail, this misuse of your personal information can represent a violation of your privacy and your consumer rights.

What can you do about?
First, before signing up for an online dating service, you will see a link somewhere in the signup process to read their terms and conditions. Although this might sound like unpleasant reading, click on the link and read the fine print of their terms and conditions. This is the document that will determine what you are agreeing to let them do with your information. Once you submit your signup form, you have essentially signed your name on this document.

If you're already signed up and you're buried in spam, you have a few options. The top online dating services usually have a settings option to increase or decrease the flow of email and decide what kinds of emails you'll receive.

If you're getting spammed by dating-related companies you know you didn't sign up for, you can confront your online dating site's customer service team about it. In this case, always be an informed consumer and re-read their terms and conditions. There is a good chance you agreed to let them use your personal information this way when you signed up, without even realizing it.

If they won't work with you to resolve the situation, as mentioned above, you can escalate the situation by filing a complaint with the BBB. As always, you can exercise your influence as a consumer by submitting a consumer review.

Online Dating Doesn't Have to Be Dangerous

In the end, dealing with an online dating service is a lot like dating itself. There are lots of solid, reputable online dating services that are great about resolving customer concerns when they arise, providing a safe, positive experience, and showing appreciation for you, their customer. But if you feel like you are being under-appreciated or taken advantage of by your online dating service, you always have the option to walk away and find something better. Telling other consumers how your online dating service treated you is one way to get them to change their ways.

Have you had a bad experience on an online dating site? Or maybe you've found the love of your life? Make your voice heard and submit your consumer review today.

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Written by Marcus Varner

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