28 January 2020
Complaints related to matchmaking services were up 55% last year, the Consumer Council said on Thursday . Photo: HKEJ
Complaints related to matchmaking services were up 55% last year, the Consumer Council said on Thursday . Photo: HKEJ

Warning sounded over matchmaking service traps

The consumer watchdog has urged people to be careful about matchmaking services, warning about issues such as lack of transparency, ineffective service and hidden charges among some operators. 

In a statement released on Thursday, when the world marked Valentine’s Day, the Consumer Council reminded people of the potential risks in trying to find a partner through matchmaking agencies.

The watchdog said it received as many as 64 complaints against agencies providing matchmaking services last year, representing a 55 percent surge from 2017.

Most of the complaints were related to service quality that fell far short of expectations or were considered not value for money, it said, adding that in some cases the service seekers never even got a single date.

The Council reminded consumers who are desperate to get a partner that they should never make a hasty choice but should ensure that they fully understand the scope and guarantees of services provided by matchmakers as well as the price disparities amongst various membership offerings before signing up for them.

It also advised that consumers should understand their personal needs and objectively evaluate the chance of success of such services, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In one of three cases detailed by the Council, a lady was persuaded by a matchmaking agency to upgrade to premium membership at an annual fee of about HK$20,000 on the promise that several meetings would be arranged for her every week, along with an assurance that she would receive a free six-month membership if she signed up for the upgrade right away. She accepted the offer and paid the fee accordingly.

But later she found that no meetings were successfully arranged for her with male members of the agency, despite the lady having agreed to meet them. When she lodged a complaint with the agency, she was said to have been told that the problem was her photo was not attractive enough. The agency then suggested that she pay an extra HK$25,000 for a professional photography service to increase her odds of success.

The woman refused to do so and demanded cancellation of her membership and a partial refund of her paid fee, but the agency did not respond to her request. Amid this stalemate, the lady decided to approach the Consumer Council.

When the Council took up the matter with the agency, it replied that it was approaching the customer to settle the case directly with her.

In another case, a lady paid HK$2,899 to sign up for a one-year membership with a matchmaking agency, which promised her that it would base its matches on her information and expectations, and that she would receive information on up to five male members for her choice every day.

However, no meetings with male members came through even though the lady had agreed to meet them. From the third month, the company reduced the information being sent to her. Of the male members who were flagged as potential dates, the information on some came without photos attached and some profiles did not match her expectations.

The complainant pointed out that she bought her membership mainly because the company claimed it had 170,000 high-quality single members. The company claimed, in its response to the Council, that the number included all members in Southeast Asia and was an accumulated figure for the past 10 years. As for Hong Kong members, it actually had only 3,000 customers and only four in 10 of them were males.

Despite the woman complaining about unsatisfactory service, the agency refused to offer a refund, arguing that it had already done its part to provide the services.

In the third case, a man who paid HK$888 online for a three-month trial service with a matching making agency was coaxed into paying an extra HK$6,000 to enhance his chance of success by upgrading his membership with the guarantee of his meeting eight female members in a year, only to find out later that the recommended female members fell short of his expectations in respect of their age and marital status.

In addition, the agency automatically renewed his basic membership by charging his credit card, upon the expiry of three-month trial.

The complainant pointed out that though he had already been a premium member, he still had to pay for the basic online membership fee. The agency argued that the terms and conditions (T&C) for auto membership renewal were clearly stated on its website, and that when the man registered his membership online he had accepted the T&C, so refund to him would not be feasible. The man thus sought help at the Council.

Laying out such cases, the consumer watchdog urged matchmaking service providers to clearly disclose to their customers all important information, including the operation mode of the membership system as well as the terms and limitations of the services.

Any omission or any false or ambiguous representations may constitute a violation of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, it warned.

As for consumers, the watchdog reminded them that they should carefully check the expiry date of the membership, the method of membership termination, and if there are any T&C relating to auto membership renewal, before making payment for the services.

Meanwhile, it also advised the public that they should not rely solely on matchmaking platforms to find a partner, but should instead actively take part in social activities to expand their social circles.

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