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Instead of seeking companionship on dating apps geared to the LBGTQ+ community, scammers are exorting others for cash or compromising photos. The fraud, called sextortion, has led the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue a warning after complaints from users of sites such as Grindr, Feeld and other dating apps.
These “aren’t your typical I-love-you-please-send-money romance scams,” Ari Lazarus, an FTC consumer education specialist, wrote in a blog post. "They're extortion."
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Typically, the offender poses as a potential partner on an LGBTQ+ dating app, sends their own explicit photos and asks for some in return. The scammer then threatens to share the images and conversation with the victim’s friends, family or employer unless the target sends money, usually via a gift card.
Lazarus, in an interview, could not say how many complaints the FTC had received. He said Grindr and Feeld were singled out because they were named in complaints filed by victims but that some complaints did not specify a platform.
'Safe space' was not
Most alarming, he says, was that people who were not fully “out” about their sexual orientation were being exploited on an LGBTQ+ app, which they thought was a “safe space.”
The FTC generally does not divulge the specifics of complaints it receives, but court cases reveal cruel and devastating betrayal in sextortion.
In May 2021, a 25-year-old Washington state man was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison after targeting at least 15 men on gay dating sites. He exchanged images, demanded explicit videos from them and threatened to send their intimate photos to their acquaintances if they didn’t comply, the Kitsap Sun reported. Some of his distraught victims contemplated suicide.
Then there’s the Wisconsin man, now 23, who pleaded no contest after harassing an older man on Grindr, the Telegraph Herald reported.
The victim was married for 30 years and feared his wife would divorce him if she learned what he was doing, but he refused to be blackmailed, court records show. His wife, son and daughter received Facebook messages with screenshots of the victim’s Grindr profile. “Did you know your husband is cheating on you with men?” the wife was asked.