ACFE Research Specialist
Pride Month may be over, but, for scammers, the calendar doesn’t matter: there’s fraud to be had every month of the year. It’s more important than ever for the LGBTQ+ community to maintain its collective strength – especially when it comes to the scams that target them. Here are some of the most common fraud schemes perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ+ community, along with some useful tips on how to identify, deter and successfully circumvent these fraud attempts.
As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) points out in its post about fraud during Pride Month, many of the tools and resources cultivated by the LGBTQ+ community can be easily weaponized by fraudsters. It’s a very dirty trick, given that many in the community report struggling with isolation and loneliness, and therefore rely on outlets like dating and neighborhood apps to feel more connected to those around them. While the FTC states romance scams cost victims an estimated $304 million in 2020, it may be impossible to know exactly what percentage of those victims were LGBTQ+ members, as the FTC does not delineate fraud victims by sexual orientation or gender identity. One aspect of romance fraud in the LGBTQ+ community that differentiates it from romance fraud committed against heterosexual targets is that these scams are more likely be extortive in nature than emotionally manipulative or compelling. Romance fraudsters preying upon LGBTQ+ victims frequently convince their intended targets to send compromising photos or messages, then threaten to release these items publicly or send them to friends and family of the victim unless the victim pays them. Compare this to romance scams where the fraudster implores the victim with some kind of “sob story”. For example, a medical or financial emergency has arisen and fast cash is needed. Of course, these types of manipulative scams can also target LGBTQ+ members. However, extortion scams stick out as an especially low form of fraud amongst victims who have historically been forced to keep their identities closeted.
To avoid being the victim of a romance scam, the FTC recommends never sending money to anyone that you have not met in person. It’s also a good idea to do a reverse Google image search on the profile picture of any individuals you connect with on an app. You may be surprised what you find. If someone is actively extorting you, or has in the past, you can report itto the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative by calling the crisis hotline at 844-878-CCRI (2274).
LGBTQ+ people are also at risk for affinity fraud schemes, as these frauds target the demographic members of a specific identity or community. To win over trust from victims, fraudsters often pose as members of the demographic in question and, after building relationships, can rope victims into Ponzi schemes or other common investment scams. Perhaps the most well-known example of an affinity fraud scheme targeting the LGBTQ+ community occurred in 2012, when the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint in southern Florida against a 67-year-old man who was accused of defrauding investors out of as much as $11 million – many of whom were well-known members of the local gay community.
Potential victims of affinity frauds can keep themselves protected by taking extra precautions around proposed investment opportunities. The SEC recommends researching the background of any individual soliciting an investment – as well as never making an investment based exclusively on the endorsement of a community or organization member to which the potential victim may belong.
In our high-octane political atmosphere, solicitations for charitable donations are more ubiquitous than ever. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon well-meaning donors to be on the lookout for suspicious contribution requests or charities that don’t seem quite on the up-and-up. While alerts sent out by legitimate organizations can help shed light onto scams already in progress, members of the LGBTQ+ community must still remain as wary as anyone of email or text solicitations for money or personal data.
As always, the FTC recommends doing your research before hitting the “donate” button. If you receive an email or text message from an organizationmake sure to first look them up independently and confirm the organization’s legitimacy. Specifically, a best practice for researching charitable organizations is to type the name of the organization into Google and add the words “scam” or “complaint” to your search. Another potential red flag is when organizations ask for donations to be sent as cryptocurrency. While a cryptocurrency transaction is not itself an indicator of fraud, contributors may want to think twice before initiating one to an unverified organization. Organizations that solicit payment in any currency with potentially untraceable origins (cash, a prepaid gift card, wiring money, etc.) should be looked at twice.
With the population of LGBTQ+ members who are aged 50 or older expected to increase to 5 million individuals by 2030, it’s perhaps no surprise that this demographic is especially vulnerable to scams targeting senior citizens. What’s more, older LGBTQ+ community members are statistically more likely to be estranged from their biological families and less likely than their heterosexual peers to have children; thus, rendering them prime targets for scams that prey upon the elderly or people living on fixed incomes.
To help fight back, the organization SAGE, which provides advocacy and resources for aging LGBTQ+ community members, has developed an app called “SageCents.” The app assists its users with increasing financial literary and personalized financial health to help them avoid becoming open to the types of scams that are easily pinpointed on the vulnerable and desperate. It also exposes users to information on recent fraud schemes and empowers them with reporting tools and support outlets, in case they’ve already been victimized.
SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners