LGBTQ+ community warned of extortionists abusing dating apps

LGBTQ+ community warned of extortionists abusing dating apps, Dating, LGBTQ+, Romance Scam, Scam, Sextortion, Warning

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned this week of extortion scammers targeting the LGBTQ+ community by abusing online dating apps like Grindr and Feeld.

According to the FTC, the criminals pose as potential romantic partners on LGBTQ+ dating apps, sending explicit photos to their targets and asking them to reciprocate.

If they fall for it, the victims get blackmailed into paying a ransom, usually in untraceable gift cards, under the threat of having sexual imagery they shared with the scammers leaked to their family, friends, or employers.

Some scammers may also tell victims the names of those they will reach out to if the ransom is not paid or threaten to out those still “closeted.”

“Other scammers threaten people who are ‘closeted’ or not yet fully ‘out’ as LGBTQ+,” the consumer protection watchdog explained.

“They may pressure you to pay up or be outed, claiming they’ll ‘ruin your life’ by exposing explicit photos or conversations.”

How to fend off scammers

The FTC advises LGBTQ+ dating app users not to share explicit photos with people they’ve just met online or if they’re not 100% sure who is on the other end of the chat.

Those actively using LGBTQ+ dating apps should take additional measures to defend themselves against such extortion attempts by:

  • Always check out who you’re talking to: reverse image search the person’s profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or details that don’t match up – those are signs of a scam.
  • Don’t share personal info with people you just met on a dating app: that includes cell phone numbers, email addresses, and social media profiles.
  • Don’t pay scammers to destroy photos or conversations: there’s no guarantee they’ll do it.

Online dating platforms have also warned their users in the past to be aware that extortion scams might target them.

Grindr warns that “social media and dating apps are a prime target for these bad actors, as scammers seek to exploit people looking to make meaningful connections.”

Feeld also asks its users to “always be mindful when you share personal details such as your real name, phone number, address or any other personal information” and “never follow through any payment requests from other members [..] as these can be attempts at identity theft or financial fraud.”

Sextortion attack spike

In September, the FBI warned of a massive spike of online romance scams that caused Americans to lose over $113 million since the start of 2021.

In 2021, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) also received more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints [PDF], amounting to over $13.6 million in losses.

“Most victims report the initial contact with the fraudster is mutual and made using dating websites and apps,” the FBI said.

Those targeted by sextortion scammers should immediately stop interacting with the criminals, contact law enforcement, and file a complaint with the FBI IC3 at www.ic3.gov.

The FBI also provides tips you should follow to protect yourself from extortion attacks:

  • NEVER send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
  • Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Links can secretly hack your electronic devices using malware to access your private data, photos, and contacts or control your web camera and microphone without your knowledge.
  • Turn off your electronic devices and web cameras when not in use.
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