This blog is about user experience design and I believe everything that is related to how users interact with a service fits in it. This is the true story of one of my friends whose money was stolen by intentionally misleading user experience:
A Facebook directed ad.
Jake is a 32 year old single man from Serbia who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Around July 2010 he found an interesting advertisement about Firstdate.com, a dating website on Facebook. The ad read as “Try Firstdate.com for 19Kr (ordinary price: 239Kr)!”. Here is what the website header says (same message was shown since 2010):
The site claims that it has 70% success ratio. Of course they is no way for an ordinary user to measure these marketing claims.
A user curious enough to pay
He believed 19Kr is not a big risk to try his chance in the online dating, but to take the safe road, he decided to try the free membership first. After a few days, he received too many “love mails” and “winks” in his email. But when he clicked on the links, he was directed to Firstdate to pay in order to see those emails. Finally he was convinced that he wants to pay that 19Kr and see where those emails are coming from. After paying the 19Kr and joining the service, he browsed around the user account settings and found a place where he could turn off auto-payment feature so that the site doesn’t take money on his behalf automatically.
He realized that even a single one of those people who emailed him don’t reply back (later we will talk about how these machine generated emails work). So after 3 weeks, he decided that he doesn’t want to continue with the website. So he closed his account with no success. Of course he could take his money back if Firstdate’s guaranteed dating was real but he decided that 19Kr doesn’t worth it.
Charging a user who is not even a user
1 month later Jake found out that 239Kr was gone from his account to Firstdate.com! He could not believe it, so he contacted their support. After waiting 2 weeks, he still hadn’t got any reply from the support, but he had enough time to think it over and put the guilt on himself for not reading the user agreement which says “the account will be automatically charged”. So here is the trick:
- The site brings you in with a very small membership fee
- At the moment of getting your credit card information it schedules 3 payments in advance
Helpless user called the bank and the police
Jake told me that he was very frustrated seeing money is withdrawn from his account every month. He felt fooled, frustrated and helpless so he turned to his bank to see what they can do. The bank told him that if he is sure that the website took his money illegally he can fill out some forms and they will take it back, but if he is not sure about his claim, he should be aware that this will cost him 500Kr if the website legally took the money. Moreover if he thinks that it is an instance of Internet fraud, he should report it to the police. He wasn’t sure about the legal stuff so he contacted a lawyer at his workplace after reporting to the police. Meanwhile Firstdate hadn’t replied any of his 10+ emails and his constant try to call them. This is the company contact info:
First Date International AB
Långa Raden 1-3
178 02 Drottningholm
Company Number: 5567002422
Tel: 070-823 51 30
The lawyer got a little money back
Jake told me that the lawyer managed to talk to Firstdate.com and get the last payment back. But he informed Jake that he should have been more careful reading the user agreement upon signing up because it mentions that the user will be charged for 3 months in advance upon joining the service.
But Jake believes that it is false advertisement because the ad said: “Join for 19Kr” not “Join for 975Kr” (19+3*239).
What other users say?
It is very easy to find complains from literally hundreds of users all around the web. Let’s see a few examples how frustrated they are and what they thing/do:
- I registered on the page but not paid. Although I have not written whether any information about myself or put up a picture so I have got 117 love mails! (Axel Ivar -translated from http://www.onlinedejting.se/dejtingsajter/recension-av-firstdate/)
- I will take action against this company. I know people in the advertising companies and believe me, I will do everything possible to get the message out there, twitter, Youtube, Facebook. Will also contact my bank that they lock the mortgage payments with the foundation “false advertising” and “misrepresentation”. (Sebastian -translated from http://www.onlinedejting.se/dejtingsajter/recension-av-firstdate/)
- FIRST DATE IS A FUCKING SCAM! they withdraw funds from one account even though they have renounced that they will pull money! They do not respond to emails and they pull much more money!! (Sandra Nyberg -translated from http://www.onlinedejting.se/dejtingsajter/recension-av-firstdate/)
- The attraction of an introductory offer of SEK 10 but does not mention that you can simultaneously bind you 2 months to come to the much higher price. Their support does not respond at all… (Erik -translated from http://www.svenskasajter.com/recensioner/www.firstdate.com)
- … I have links to TV and referred the matter so we look forward to people behind come on TV and explain… I have spoken with the National Consumer Agency and they say that we have a good case if we want to prosecute them. (Kim Eskildsen -translated from http://www.svenskasajter.com/recensioner/www.firstdate.com)
- False advertising and theft is what this company is doing. They do not respond to emails and even the chairman promised after a phone call that payment would be made a false charge. After 3 weeks, this has not happened and now I have done a short complaint and a police report will probably be necessary. (Robert -translated from http://www.svenskasajter.com/recensioner/www.firstdate.com)
- You will be charged, even if you cancel your account. It seems that single payment makes you to pay them forever. And there is no way to escape that. They do not answer nor react to your emails. So, be aware, and do not pay any membership fees to firstdate.com. I am going to a police, and hope they will get convicted. (Victim of Firstdate said on http://www.loveshack.org/forums/romantic/dating/268806-victim-firstdate)
- RED LIGHT RED LIGHT RED LIGHT … Never sign up first date, 19kr per month, mmm – NO 19 kr FIRST MONTH, then 270DK/md and then there’s 3x270KR (Bo -translated from http://www.trustpilot.se/review/www.firstdate.com)
- I wrote emails up and down to them if I wanted to be deleted, but never heard any response from them. They continued to pull money from my account, month after month. After 4 months of struggle, I and my bank manager agreed that I simply had to get a new card. It may just not be right that this is what is needed before one can get out of their claws. It is extremely unprofessional, and would advise everyone to stay away from firstdate.com. (Janni -translated from http://www.trustpilot.se/review/www.firstdate.com)
- I went to their advertising to try gold member a month for 19kr. Guess what they’re doing, well, they pull for twelve months for the price of standard sum (239kr/mån x 12 = 2868kr). (Daniel Persson -translated from http://www.svenskasajter.com/detaljer/www.firstdate.com)
- This is a warning to anyone considering becoming a member or already are. If you do not read their contract carefully so it becomes much more expensive. As Gold Member you have 90 days notice and pay full price for gold membership. In addition, payment is automatically deducted from your account if you do not stop that functionality. The month we thought we would get for 19 kr suddenly became more of a lot more money. Sly and ugly as it is designed with a view to pull out more money from users than they had thought. (Caran672 -translated from https://www.flashback.org/t952908)
There are much more complaints and if you’re interested you can just search the internet for “Firstdate.com scam” or “Firstdate.com fraud”.
Unfortunately it is common to lie in an advertisement. Remember how Rebtel fools their users for free calls or how Oovoo claims that 80% of their customers prefer Oovoo over Skype? Apparently some marketing people come from a school of thought where short term profit precedes long term trust and loyal customers.
Of course the solution to this issue is very simple: honesty and customer care:
- The advertisement should clearly mention that upon paying 19Kr, you will be charged for 3 months in advance for the regular price. They may lose customers? It’s ok, better loose customers than making enemies and haters.
- There is no reason for an electronic service like Firstdate to have 3 month cancellation period. They are not doing construction work or any investment. Why should the users pay a single day more than they really need? An electronic service like Firstdate can stop a user immediately so why not stopping payment immediately?
- Put a proper customer support that actually reads and replies emails properly.
- Don’t send fake “love mails” to users in order to fool them to pay on the website to be able to see the emails. Not only it is legally considered spam and fake advertisement, but ethically it’s mean.
Sadly enough this service still exists in 2012 and apparently all those unhappy customers haven’t managed to do something. Does it show a problem with the legal system? Does it indicate an issue with how police or bank handle user complains? Whatever it is, there are hundreds of unhappy users and I’m sure there are thousands who don’t say something online or I haven’t found their complain in this short time that I spent researching for this post. Just like what I said about Rebtel: if your business depends on loyal customers, there is no point in fraud.