Matchmaking Service Charges Lack Transparency – Beware of Disputes over Service Effectiveness and Charges
Matchmaking services undertaking to find the “other half” for their customers have been prevalent in recent years. However, the Consumer Council had received 64 complaints last year, representing an increase of over 55% year on year of which mainly were related to service quality that fell far short of customers’ expectations or were considered not value for money. In some cases, the complainants had never got even a single date.
Consumers should be aware that matching services generally operate with a membership tier system whereby customers have to pay more to reach the higher tier so as to get more choices and chances of a successful match. After consumers have signed up for the services, some matchmakers would also persuade their customers to buy additional services, such as professional photography and improvement courses on image building and communication skills on the pretext that these would increase their chances of finding the perfect match. The Consumer Council would like to remind consumers who are desperate to get a partner that they should never make a hasty choice. Before signing up for any matchmaking services, consumers should ensure that they fully understand the scope and guarantees of the services as well as the price disparities amongst different memberships. Consumers should understand their personal needs and objectively evaluate the chance of success of these services.
Matchmaking service providers are urged to clearly disclose to their customers such vital information as the operation mode of the membership system as well as the terms and limitations of the services. They are also reminded that any omission or any false or ambiguous representations may amount to a contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.
Case 1: Persuaded to Buy Extra Services to Increase the Matching Chance
The complainant left her contact information on the website of Company A for obtaining information on its matchmaking services. She was then shown photos of a number of advanced male members by the staff of Company A. She was persuaded to upgrade to advanced membership at an annual fee of about $20,000 on the promise that several meetings would be arranged for her every week and additionally she would receive a free 6-month membership if she chose to pay for the upgrade right away. The complainant accepted the offer and paid the fee accordingly.
Subsequently, the company provided her with information on a number of male members but no meeting could be arranged although she had agreed to meet them. She complained to the company but was only told that the problem was because her photo was not attractive enough and was persuaded to pay an extra $25,000 for a professional photography service to enhance her chance of success. She refused and demanded cancellation of her membership and a partial refund of her paid fee. The company remained unresponsive to her demand, so she lodged a complaint with the Council.
In its reply in response to the Council’s enquiry, Company A stated that it had approached the complainant direct for a settlement. The complainant has not pursued her case with the Council since then.
Case 2: Ambiguous Membership Information Akin to misrepresentation
The complainant paid $2,899 to sign up for a one-year membership with Company B. She was promised that the company would base its matches on her information and expectations, and that she would receive information on a maximum of 5 male members for her choice every day. In the first month, the company sent her information and photos of 5 male members on a daily basis. Although she had agreed to meet them, none of the meetings could be materialized. Thereafter, the company started sending her less male members’ information and some even without photos attached while some did not match her expectations.
The complainant doubted the veracity of the company’s claim on its website that it had 170,000 high-quality single members, and she had lost the confidence in the quality of the members, particularly for those who did not provide their photos. Furthermore, the complainant contended that the company staff had failed to clearly explain the restrictions on the membership system and she thus lodged a complaint with the Council, demanding a refund for the unused service.
In its response to the Council, Company B explained that the number of members referred to on its website included all members in Southeast Asia and was the accumulated number for the past 10 years with 3,000 Hong Kong membership of whom 1,200 were males and nearly 60% of them had provided their photos. The company maintained that customers would normally be explained of the differences between the advanced and basic memberships, and given that the company had already done its part to provide the services, it would not refund to the complainant.
The Council advised the complainant that she could report to the Customs and Excise Department in view of the misleading information about the number of its members as provided in by the company’s website. After further conciliation, the company finally offered a solution for the complainant to continue the service and the complainant has not pursued the case further since the company’s offer was relayed to her.
Case 3: Unilateral Auto Contract Renewal and Fee Collection
The complainant paid $888 online for a 3-month trial service with Company C. During subsequent consultations, the staff of Company C told him that since he had only purchased the basic on-line membership, the number of prospective female members for matching would be limited and he might not be able to meet the female members of his preference. He was persuaded to pay an extra $6,000 to upgrade his membership with the guarantee that he would meet 8 female members within a year. Feeling fully confident in the service, he paid for upgrading his membership.
However, the complainant later found that the information of the recommended female members sent by the company on its mobile app fell short of his expectations in respect of their age and marital status. However, upon expiry of the 3-month trial, the company automatically renewed his basic membership by debiting $888 from his credit card account. The complainant was dissatisfied that despite he had already been an advanced member, he still had to pay for the basic on-line membership fee. The company argued that the terms and conditions (T&C) for auto membership renewal were clearly stated on its website and that when the complainant registered his membership online he had already accepted the T&C and therefore he would not get a refund.
The complainant turned to the Council for help, contending that the related T&C were contained in the “frequently asked questions” column that were not easily noticeable and that the company’s auto-renewal practice was inappropriate. He demanded a refund of $3,000 being the remaining half-year membership, and $888 being the auto renewal fee. After conciliation, the company agreed to settle the dispute by cancelling the service with refund of the remaining service fee.
Generally, matchmakers can only guarantee the number of members they can provide for matching but whether or not a meeting can be arranged will depend on the willingness of the members concerned. Consumers hence should not have unrealistic expectations about the “success rate” claimed by matchmakers. When choosing matchmaking services, consumers are advised to heed the following:
- Different matchmaking companies have their own membership systems and consumers should carefully check the expiry date of the membership, the method of membership termination, and whether there are any T&C relating to auto membership renewal before making payment for the services;
- Matchmaking companies may persuade consumers to acquire services, such as photography packages on the pretext that the services will enhance the chances of successful matching. Consumers should prudently evaluate the effectiveness of the services and whether the services are value for money;
- Consumers should not rely solely on matchmaking platforms to find a partner but should actively take part in social activities to expand their social circle.
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