"So you're looking for love, just like millions of other Australians. But where exactly should you be looking? Do free online dating sites offer a good service at the right price? Or should you stump up the cash for paid online dating sites instead? And how safe is online dating anyway?
Our investigation into popular online dating sites, including RSVP, eHarmony, Oasis Active, Plenty of Fish, Zoosk and OkCupid, and popular app Tinder, has found that scams are rife, and some privacy policies and terms and conditions are riddled with disturbing provisions.
Watch out for online dating site scamsThe Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been investigating online scammers who use dating sites and romance services as a feeding ground. In 2013 alone, Australians lost $25.3 million to these shysters.
The ACCC reports that they've received 2770 complaints, with more than 400 people saying they'd lost in excess of $10,000. In fact, 64 people reported losing more than $100,000. And shockingly, 43% of people who came into contact with dating and romance scams lost money – one of the highest conversion rates of scams reported to the ACCC.
Popular scams include convincing users to part with their personal details or money, which is often sent overseas and is unrecoverable.
"Scammers go to great lengths to gain your trust, spending months and even years building a relationship with you. Once your defences are lowered, they spin an elaborate tale about how they need your financial help with a crisis, such as being ill or stranded, and ask for money," says ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.
"These scams can also pose a risk to your personal safety, as scammers are often part of international criminal networks. Scammers have lured unwitting Australian victims overseas, putting people in dangerous situations that can have tragic consequences."
Is online dating safe?Internet dating can be a great way to meet new people – and possibly find 'the one' – but it's important to keep your wits about you and protect your own privacy and safety, first and foremost.
Top 4 signs you're dealing with a scammer on an online dating site
- You've never met or seen them: scammers will say anything to avoid a face-to-face meeting.
- They're not who they appear to be: scammers steal photos and profiles from real people to create an appealing facade. Run a Google image search on photos, and search words in their description to check if they're the real deal.
- You don't know a lot about them: scammers are keen to get to know you as much as possible, but are less forthcoming about themselves
- They ask you for money: once the connection's been made – be it as a friend, admirer or business partner – scammers will ask you to transfer money. Don't fall for a tall tale, no matter how plausible it sounds.
- Read terms and conditions so you know what you're signing up to and how much it will cost.
- Check your options for cancelling the contract.
- Set reminders in your phone or diary to cancel your subscription to avoid inadvertently rolling over for a further term.
- Research the business: conduct an internet search on the name of the company and verify any contact details.
- Create a separate email address for online dating.
- Never include personal information such as your real name, workplace, work or home address, phone number or birthday, in your profile.
- Do a reverse Google image search on photos of profiles to check for authenticity.
- When you meet somebody for the first time, pick a public place, tell a friend where you're going and keep the first meeting brief and inexpensive, such as grabbing a cup of coffee.
- Don't let somebody new pick you up or drop you at your home.
- Never send money to someone you've only ever contacted online or over the phone".