Members of the LGBTQ+ community have been warned to be on their guard against extortionists who may attempt to prey on them via online dating apps such as Grindr and Feeld.
The warning comes from the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which says that fraudsters use the dating and casual hookup apps to pose as a potential partner.
But whereas a typical romance scammer may pursue a line of “I-love-you-please-send-me-money-to-pay-for-my-mothers-urgent-surgery”, the scams that the FTC is warning about take a different approach.
According to the FTC, the intention of the scammer is to blackmail individuals, not trick them into believing that they are helping someone with whom they only have an online relationship:
“…a scammer poses as a potential romantic partner on an LGBTQ+ dating app, chats with you, quickly sends explicit photos, and asks for similar photos in return. If you send photos, the blackmail begins. They threaten to share your conversation and photos with your friends, family, or employer unless you pay — usually by gift card.”
In addition, warns the FTC, scammers may target users of the app who are “not yet fully ‘out’ as LGBTQ+”. The threat in these cases may be that explicit photographs or conversations will be shared with others, “outing” them, if the blackmail demands are not met.
Frankly, many people tentatively exploring the LGBTQ+ scene may be finding life hard enough as it is, without the pressure of also having to deal with criminals threatening to “out” them to their friends, family, and colleagues.
The FTC reminds those who might be vulnerable to such blackmail attempts to follow their advice:
- Don’t share personal information with someone you just met on a dating app. That includes your cell phone number, email address, and social media profile.
- Check out who you’re talking to. Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up – those are signs of a scam.
- Don’t pay scammers to destroy photos or conversations. There’s no guarantee they’ll do it.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to remember advice offered by the FBI on how to protect yourself from sextortionists:
- 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 gain access to 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.