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The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent filing of a lawsuit against JDI Dating, an online dating company, may have online daters wondering if the company’s scam may be another form of catfishing. JDI, a British company which operates almost 20 different websites including findmelove.com and cupidswand.com, has agreed to settle with the government to the tune of over $600,000. In response to the suit, the company has also agreed to modify some of its practices.
It seems that people searching for romance were able to create dating profiles on the online dating sites at no charge but for the privilege of responding to messages from other interested singles, they were required to pay. The monthly cost for upgrading to paid membership ran anywhere from $10 to $30. “Adding insult to injury,” says the FTC’s Jessica Rich, who directs the Bureau of Consumer Protection, “Users were charged automatically to renew their subscriptions, often without their consent.”
Even more disturbing is the fact that the profiles of the members, the ones who were nearby and supposedly interested in meeting, were largely fictitious. Unsuspecting people were tricked into paying their money in order to communicate with potential love interests on the online dating sites but the pictures were fake and the profile details were often crafted to reflect the tastes and interests of the targeted victims.
This scam, the first addressed by the FTC, bears a striking resemblance to an online dating scam that is often perpetuated against unsuspecting souls who find themselves looking for love on the internet. In fact, the entire scenario could make one wonder if JDI’s scam is just another form of catfishing. Catfishing is a term used to describe situations where people have fallen in love with people who are not who they say they are.
Many people probably first heard the term catfishing in January 2013 when the details of Notre Dame football player, Manti Te’o’s bogus romance became public. According to Parry Aftab, an expert in internet security and privacy law, however, catfishing is just one term used to describe, “Anybody who pretends to be someone who they’re not on social media…”
In reality, the term was first used in 2010 when Nev Schulman produced a documentary titled Catfish and later an MTV reality show by the same name. Schulman had met and fallen in love with a 19-year old woman who he later discovered was married and quite a bit older than he had been led to believe. Max Joseph, Schulman’s co-host on the popular TV show says that his Schulman thought his situation was unique but, “Once it came out, he started receiving thousands and thousands of e-mails from people who said they believed the same thing was happening to them, is happening to them, and that they were kind of too embarrassed to tell anyone about it until they saw his story.”
Internet dating has progressed from the early days of meeting people in chatrooms and on social media websites. Today there are dating sites for almost every demographic, sites for old people, for vegetarians, for people who share the same faith, and even for alternative lifestyles.
While most people choose to believe that companies offering these services would do so in an upstanding manner, that is not always the case. Singles interested in online dating should beware of companies like JDI who could potentially exploit their loneliness. Those who avail themselves of online dating services would do well to realize that a profile or a budding relationship that seems too good to be true, might just be a scam or another form of catfishing.
By Constance Spruill
Laughing couple by Peter Drier