Shares of Match Group (MTCH) - Get Report dropped Wednesday after the Federal Trade Commission said it was suing the online dating company over fake love-interest ads that it says tricked hundreds of thousands of customers into purchasing paid subscriptions.
The FTC also claims that Match unfairly exposed consumers to the risk of fraud by making it difficult for users to cancel their subscriptions. Match is also accused of touting profiles it knew were fake in order to trick people into paying for subscriptions.
"We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers," said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
"Online dating services obviously shouldn't be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line."
Match Group is the parent of Tinder, OKCupid and other online dating services.
Match released a statement Wednesday calling the allegations in the lawsuit "completely meritless" and claiming that it catches 85% of fradulent accounts within the first four hours of their creation.
"The FTC has misrepresented internal emails and relied on cherry-picked data to make outrageous claims and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these claims in court," the company said.
The FTC alleges that millions of contacts that were featured on Match's "You Caught His Eye" list came from accounts the company had already flagged as likely to be fraudulent.
As many as 25% to 30% of Match.com members who register each day are using the service just to perpetrate scams, the agency alleges. The company is aware of the issue but does not do enough to mitigate it, the FTC says.
The agency said it filed the complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.