Dating services: New happiness or big trouble?
What consumers should keep in mind
When it gets colder outside and you make yourself comfortable at home, the wish for a partner might become especially great. Thanks to the vast number of online portals, you can start the search for love right from your couch. Unfortunately, there are some black sheep among the providers. The ECC has the most important tips for you.
Many consumers turn to the European Consumer Centre (ECC) with complaints about online dating services. They face a variety of problems, from overpriced invoices to the refusal of the traders to accept their termination of the contract.
Miss S. saw an advertisment for a test subscription on the website of a dating service - just a few Euros for two weeks. As she followed the link, a complete list of all possible subscriptions is presented to her. The test subscription was preselected, so she clicked on "Next". On the next page, the means of payment are listed as well as an explanation in small print, declaring that the offer will automatically turn to a six-month-subscription if you don't cancel on time. Miss S. enters her payment details, confirms that she is an adult and agrees to the terms & conditions. Furthermore, she has to accept the cancellation policy.
In this example, two things are important:
- Automatic contract extension: A trader is obliged to send a separate notification to the consumer, telling him that his contract will be extended if he doesn't cancel. If the dating service does not inform you in this manner that your test subscription will turn into a permanent, fee-based subscription, the contract is invalid.
The ECC knows cases where a dating service sent out mails to their customers on time. However, the information about the extension of the contract was only available via a link in the mail. Neither the content nor the subject line indicated anything. The Austrian Verein für Konsumenteninformation (VKI) considers this as insufficient and filed a claim, a verdict is still pending.
- Cancellation policy: When you buy digital goods (like apps, ebooks etc.) or conclude contracts online, you have the right to withdraw within 14 days. The trader can exclude this right when he informs the consumer about it before the conclusion of the contract, the consumer actively agrees to it and the service is fully provided immediately (e.g. download of the app). Naturally, consumers tend to use such products and services right away and don't wait for two weeks. If they then withdraw within the 14-days-period, the trader is entitled to charge compensation (value replacement).
In the past, dating services have caused problems with this: As consumers reported to the ECC, the providers charged them up to 75 percent of the annual subscription price for only a few days of use. In the opinion of the ECC, such a high compensation is unjustified. In Germany, the Verbraucherzentrale Hamburg has filed a claim against this practice (see here).
In Austria, the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK) successfully sued against the high demands for value replacement of the dating portal Parship (read more in the German press release).
A few days after Miss S. subscribed to the test for a few Euros, she discovered a much higher debit from her bank account. She decided to make use of her right to withdraw from the contract. The trader operating the dating service refused to accept her withdrawal and insisted that she had to pay the monthly rate. After all, they argued, she had subscribed for six months. When Miss S. didn't pay, the trader assigned a collection agency who sent her reminders. Only after the intervention of the European Consumer Centre (ECC) the trader backed down, refunded the paid amount to Miss S. and accepted her withdrawal.
Tips from the ECC
- It can't be stressed enough: Before you sign or pay something, carefully read the small print, the terms & conditions. Especially with dating services, an apparently cheap or even free offer might cost consumers dearly.
- Make screenshots of every single step until the contract conclusion and save the terms & conditions (the trader has to provide you with them anyhow). A website can be changed quickly which makes it hard to prove how it looked and what content was given to you at the time you concluded the contract.
- Are there any deadlines for a cancellation? How do you have to cancel (informal mail, letter, fax)?
- Check your bank account for higher debits than what you agreed on.
- When will the offer be extended to a permanent, fee-based subscription? Did the trader send you a separate notification beforehand and gave you the opportunity to cancel within time?
If you face problems with a dating service, feel free to contact the ECC. We intervene free of charge, extrajudicial and cross-border. You can reach us via our online complaint form, our hotline (01 / 588 77 81, Mo, Tue, Thu: 9 a.m. - 12.30 p.m.) or mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).