Romance scams where an online suitor creates a fake profile gains your trust, and asks you to send money are nothing new. Consumers reported more than $304 million in romance scam losses in 2020 alone. Now romance scammers are targeting LGBTQ+ dating apps, threatening to embarrass and expose people who are closeted, questioning their sexuality, or even just looking for love, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
“We’re hearing about scams targeting people on LGBTQ+ dating apps, like Grindr and Feeld,” warns the FTC. “And they aren’t your typical I-love-you, please-send-money romance scams. They’re extortion scams.”
Scammers use shame and blackmail
LGBTQ+ scams vary, but most go something like this. First, the scammer creates a fake dating site profile to lure you in. The scammer strikes up a chat with you, and once he or she gains your trust, sends explicit photos, asking you to do the same. Once you send racy photos, however, the extortion scam begins.
The scammer threatens to share your chat conversation and the embarrassing photos with your spouse, family members, friends, and even your employer unless you pay up, usually with a gift card sent to the blackmailer.
“Other scammers threaten people who are “closeted” or not yet fully “out” as LGBTQ+,” says the FTC. “They may pressure you to pay up or be outed, claiming they’ll “ruin your life” by exposing explicit photos or conversations.”
Blackmail isn’t the only LGBTQ+ scam in town, though. Your new suitor may groom you for a while before asking for money to pay for a plane ticket they never buy, surgery, or other medical expenses. The romance scammer may even ask for money to pay off gambling or other debts.
If you’re looking for love or even just a casual encounter on LGBTQ+ dating sites, here are four tips to help make sure you don’t become an LGBTQ+ romance scammer’s next victim.
Check out the dating profile photo
That burly man posed on a sailboat in the profile photo may be hot, but those muscles could belong to someone else if that photo was swiped from another online source like Facebook or another dating site. The FTC recommends doing a “reverse image” search of the person’s profile picture to see if it pops up anywhere else online.
“If it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up – those are signs of a scam,” says the FTC.
Don’t share personal information
Never share personal information that could be used to steal your identity and fraudulently open credit card accounts under your name. Don’t give someone you meet through an LGBTQ+ dating site your birthday, Social Security number or address. The FTC also recommends not sharing your email address or phone number.
Never send explicit photos
It’s common sense to not send photos of your private parts or pictures of you posed in a sexually provocative position. However, lots of people do exactly that while caught up in the thrill of the moment. Once you send such a photo, however, you’ve played right into the scammer’s blackmail scheme.
When the scammer threatens to send your coworkers, friends, and family copies of the embarrassing photos unless you send money, it may be tempting to pay up so you can remove that threat. That’s a bad idea, though. “Don’t pay scammers to destroy photos or conversations,” says the FTC. “There’s no guarantee they’ll do it.”
The FBI also warns against paying extortion demands. “The funds will facilitate continued criminal activity, including potential organized crime activity and associated violent crimes,” according to the FBI.
What can I do if someone is trying to extort me?
If you live in the U.S. and someone is threatening to share embarrassing photos or chat conversations unless you pay money, you should report the crime to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Also, contact your local FBI field office or the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). If you paid the scammer with a gift card, contact the card’s issuer right away. “Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money,” advises the FTC.
Under 25 and need to talk with an LGBTQ+ about what happened? Reach out to the Trevor Project, which has free counselors available 24/7.