The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alerts extortion scammers targeting the LGBTQ+ community through online dating apps such as Grindr and Feeld. As the FTC discovered, the threat actors would pose as potential romantic partners on LGBTQ+ dating apps, sending explicit photos and asking their targets to reciprocate.
If they initiate fall for the scammers’ tricks, the victims will be blackmailed to pay a ransom, commonly in gift cards, under the threat of leaking the shared sexual imagery with their family, friends, or employers.
“To make their threats more credible, these scammers will tell you the names of exactly who they plan to contact if you don’t pay up. This is information scammers can find online by using your phone number or your social media profile,” the FTC said. “Various scammers threaten people who are ‘closeted’ or not yet fully ‘out’ as LGBTQ+. They may pressure you to pay up or be outed, claiming they’ll ‘ruin your life’ by exposing explicit photos or conversations.”
The FTC recommends LGBTQ+ dating apps users avoid distributing explicit photos unless they’re sure who is on the other end of a chat or with people they’ve just met online.
What are the precautions that should be taken to defend?
Those who are actively using such apps should take measures to defend themselves against such scam attempts by:
- Checking out who they’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.
- Not sharing personal information with someone you just met on a dating app. That includes your cell phone number, email address, and social media profile.
- Not paying scammers to destroy photos or conversations. There’s no guarantee they’ll do it.
Online dating programs including Grindr and Feeld have also informed their users in the past to be aware that scammers might target them. For instance, 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 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.”
FBI Alerts Sextortion Attack Spike
This warning comes after a similar one issued by the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) who has seen a massive increase in sextortion complaints since January 2021, leading to financial losses of over $8 million until the end of July.
The federal agency stated it received more than 16,000 sextortion complaints until July 31, almost half of them from victims in the 20-39 age groups. “Most victims report the initial contact with the fraudster is mutual and made using dating websites and apps,” the FBI added.
These finding themselves targeted by sextortion scammers should prevent communicating with the scammers, contact law enforcement, and file a complaint with the FBI IC3 immediately at www.ic3.gov. The FBI also accommodates tips on protecting yourself from extortion attacks:
- NEVER forward negotiating images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
- Do not launch attachments from somebody you do not know. Links can personally hack your electronic devices using malware to take over your private data, photos, and contacts or control your web camera and microphone without your knowledge.
- Switch off your automated devices and web cameras while not in use.