Usually when you meet a guy off a gay hookup app like Grindr or Scruff (or Hornet or Jack'd or DaddyHunt or Recon or GROWLr), the worst thing that can happen is finding out that he's used a profile picture from five years earlier, when he had more hair and less gut. But that's not the case in Canberra, Australia, where a ring of three to four men are reportedly using the apps to meet men and then blackmail them.
According to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation, the local AIDS Action Council has received at least two separate reports from men who say that when they went to meet users they had been talking to on the apps, they were threatened to hand over cash. Sometimes, the altercations have turned violent.
"[The scammers said] they're going to exploit them, if they don't give them money they're going to tell their friends and family what they're doing," Philippa Moss, director of the council, told ABC News. "There has been some indication of potentially meeting them and then beating them."
It's not totally clear from the reports if men are being extorted solely because of their sexual orientation, or if the blackmailers are threatening to expose their activity on the apps. The Action Council does, however, believe there are even more men who have been targeted, but have yet to come forward because they're too embarrassed.
"People don't necessarily admit that this is what they're doing," Moss said. "There is stigma and discrimination attached to using these apps for hookups."
Gay blackmail scams go as far back as the closet itself. For example, in 1954, Wyoming senator Lester Hunt killed himself after Joe McCarthy told him to drop his reelection bid or he would reveal that Hunt's son tried to solicit an undercover cop for sex. As long as there is a stigma attached to LGBTQ identity and homosexual sex, they are sure to continue.
The reports from Australia come a week after an Idaho man, Kelly Schneider, pled guilty to the hate-motivated murder of a gay man who he met by posting an ad posing as an escort on Backpage.com last April. Schneider confessed that he lured Steven Nelson into a remote area, robbed him, and kicked him so many times with his steel-toed boots that Nelson died shortly after in the hospital. (Backpage closed down its adult classified section earlier this year.)
The perpetrators of gay blackmail schemes aren't always straight men. In 2015, Teofil Brank—a gay porn star known as Jarec Wentworth—made headlines when he was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to extort $500,000 from a wealthy businessman who paid him for sex and used him to arrange paid encounters with other adult video models.
Hookup apps and other online sex tools can definitely be a lot of fun, but make sure that, if you use them, you're taking precautions for your safety. The AIDS Action Council has reached out to those who might be affected by the scheme to come in if they need help.
"Come and have a chat, we've got lots of councillors here who can guide them in the right direction," Moss said.