Online Dating Site Operator Nailed For Deceptive Business Practices

I don’t know what it is about business (the profits?) that attracts society’s worst people, but today we have another lurid example of a dishonest business operator ripping off his customers.

CBS News reports the FTC fined an online dating site entrepreneur over $600,000 and forced him to stop bamboozling would-be Romeos and Juliets into signing up for non-cancellable subscriptions to his dating sites by sending them fake computer-generated flirts, complete with phony profiles and photos, from fictional prospective “dates” they could communicate with only by paying money.

The case involves 18 dating sites run by “JDI Dating,” owned by a guy named William Mark Thomas,* whose basic business tactic was to offer free browsing of his sites — and then lure new registrants into paid subscriptions by sending fake computer-generated flirts, complete with phony profiles and photos, to them. (* I was under the impression the media give people’s middle names only when they’re being booked or executed.)


It’s a sweet business if you can get away with it. Once you get their credit card numbers, you’ve got a continuing revenue stream, and you don’t have to provide any goods or services to keep it coming because they can’t cancel after they find out there are no rich guys or gorgeous models reading their profiles.

I’ve never used online dating and know nothing about it — it didn’t exist when I was single — but I know thievery when I see it. Unless I’m incredibly naive, the purpose of an online dating site — and what you’re paying for — is to make a connection with someone you might want to date and even develop a relationship with. (In my day, we did this at work, if we hadn’t already been taken out of circulation at a campus; but apparently cubicles and personal devices now make it impossible to get anyone’s attention in traditional venues.) Maybe lots of decent people who don’t deserve to get cheated this way use these sites; and no doubt there arguably are some, perhaps plenty, who have it coming (think married cheaters).

What I do know is the business world is populated by a lot of characters eager to make a buck who don’t give a hoot about legality or business ethics. Making an honest dollar in legitimate business is no easy thing, and many reputable small businesses go under. Even n big business, returns on invested capital are surprisingly modest. For example, and this may shock some readers, Exxon’s profit margin on its sales is about eight percent and change in a good year. (Contrary to popular belief, oil companies do not make $5 of profit from each $3.50 gallon sold at the pump.) With returns like this, no wonder some entrepreneurs decide to play dirty with their customers (think athletic clubs).

Not that I’m against cheating cheaters, especially narcissistic cheaters who go to athletic clubs to beef up before going online to troll for someone to commit adultery with, although frequently a mitigating factor in these cases is that she’s cheating on someone, too. Maybe my views on such things are quaintly old-fashioned, but I tend to feel people like that deserve each other. As George C. Scott said, “You can’t cheat a honest man!”

Still, I’m against people getting rich by defrauding ordinary people, and not just because it concentrates wealth in an especially socially undesirable way. As a matter of principle, when people work hard for their money (think $7.25 minimum wage), they’re entitled to get what they’re paying for, and how many people actually want to date a server processor that’s also flirting with 25,000 other people?

Libertarians, Republicans, and free-market and laissez-faire ideologues don’t think the government should crack down on crooked businesses that cheat their customers. They would do away with the FTC, federal and state consumer protection agencies, and consumer laws. When they complain about “excessive business regulation,” this is part of what they’re talking about. I think their whole approach to the issue is stupid. How can the public protect themselves from business crooks, or get restitution if they’re cheated, without a government backstopping them?

Here’s what would happen. Let’s suppose there was no bank deposit insurance (another thing they’re against); would you entrust your money to a bank? Say, Washington Mutual? Of course not! Neither would I. Or anyone else. Likewise, if ripoff operators are allowed to flourish on the internet, no one will trust anyone doing business on the internet, and internet commerce will drop to zero. Then what happens to the advertising revenue that supports virtually all of the social media, news sites, and practically everything else on the internet? We’d have a contentless internet, empty screens with no pixels to fill them, nothing but the vacant white screen of death you get when the latest version of the XYZ Company’s operating system freezes up. You don’t want that, do you?

Did I mention there’s an election next week? Have you voted yet? If not, let’s get it done. If you don’t vote, and they cut off the FTC’s head, your puppy may be next.Roger Rabbit icon





Your Comment