Crooks use dating apps to extort gay men from China

Jiankang remembers the exact date and time he was scammed while looking for love online.

It was the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on May 17 last year, and he was having dinner with his roommate in Shanghai – until a video call disrupted the evening. The caller – “Mind-Piercing Ice” – was the “cute” man he had chatted with and exchanged contacts with on Chinese gay dating app Blued the previous week.

The 27-year-old indiscreetly accepted the call on the QQ social messaging app. A naked man, masturbating, appeared for about 10 seconds before disconnecting. Then a message appeared. He clicked on the link it contained, only to find a video of himself watching the man pleasuring himself. He doubted the person was the same one he logged in with on Blued, or even if the profile picture on the app was real.

“I panicked,” Jiankang, who only gave his first name to protect his privacy, told Sixth Tone, recalling the moment he saw the message on QQ and discovered that the archive link was infected with malware that had obtained his phone’s contact list. The scammer also called him and texted him later to negotiate.

“Do you want to handle this? »The message read. “I will let your friends, colleagues and relatives know that you are a gay pervert. “

The man then demanded 30,000 yuan ($ 4,700) to stop all trading.

Messages from “Mind-Piercing Ice” to Jiankang. Courtesy of Jiankang, translated by Sixth Tone

The Jiankang Saga is one of a series of scams targeting China’s gay community on popular dating apps and online forums that have grown in recent years. The issue returned to being a topic of conversation in the community last month after several men shared similar experiences to Jiankang’s on a gay men’s forum on the Douban review platform.

Although a somewhat new phenomenon in China, these cat fishing techniques are similar to those that have existed for years elsewhere. Of Ghana To India and Australia to the UK, they follow a similar pattern: fraudsters set up honey traps on dating apps to start conversations with gay men looking for relationship or relationship, force them to share explicit pictures and videos, and threaten more later to use these papers or discussion logs to expose them.

Such tactics generally work best in countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized – which deters victims from approaching the police – which forces gay men to pay large sums to avoid persecution.

In China, homosexuality is no longer a criminal offense, but invisible red lines and unspoken rules remain. Despite the progress made over the past decade – many major cities are home to queer venues and host LGBT events, and advocates are even pushing for same-sex marriage in the country – both in line and offline spaces for the community are gradually shrinking.

EyeEm / People Visual

EyeEm / People Visual

And even though the general attitude towards the LGBT community is more tolerant than before, many still prefer not to disclose their sexual preferences due to low social acceptance. A Research 2016 by the United Nations Development Program showed that only about 5% of the more than 28,000 Chinese respondents who identified as LGBT had disclosed their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in school and at work, while almost half of respondents hid it from their families.

“For gay men in China, usually the biggest concern is usually whether their parents and family members will accept them,” said Wu Shangwei, assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Jinan in Guangzhou, and who is studying Dating App Mediation. Social relations of Chinese homosexuals, Sixth Tone said. “The crooks took advantage of it. “

Posts on social media platforms by users claiming to be gay men who have been cheated on various online platforms – including Blued – indicate that such activity is widespread, although the extent of these scams is unclear. .

Blued declined to comment for this story, although the company’s 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report show that he deleted some 6 million users that year for violating the app’s regulations.

Jiankang said Blued deleted Ice’s account shortly after reporting the scam. Meanwhile, some crooks are starting to extend their nets beyond simple dating apps.

Bai, 25, who used a pseudonym to protect his identity, said he was deceived by Douban when a user claiming to be gay sent him a link to download a gay porn app. Through the link, the user had access to Bai’s phone contacts.

Bai told Sixth Tone the man asked for 6,888 yuan – eight is a lucky number associated with wealth in China – to keep his secret. When Bai refused to pay, the individual called his mother, threatening to reveal her son’s sexual orientation to his family and friends.

Messages sent to Bai.  Courtesy of Bai, translated by Sixth Tone

Messages sent to Bai. Courtesy of Bai, translated by Sixth Tone

But even his mother – who he said “wanted me to be straight” – refused to budge.

“My mother was on my side this time, we were united against the crook,” Bai said. “This incident actually improved my relationship with my family and brought us closer together. But the lack of strong social inclusion encourages crooks to use sexual minorities as a motive for fraud.

Sixth Tone’s email to Douban for comment went unanswered at the time of posting.

Scammers preying on individuals often grab Chinese media headlines, with thousands falling victim to “”naked chat scamsWhere impostors posing as women trick men into sending nude photos that they later use to extort money. Between 2011 and 2020, some 2,000 people in more than 20 provinces were bribed over 24 million yuan, national media reported.

While heterosexual victims who report such fraudulent activity to police have helped arrest these officers, experts say gay men are not in a similar position to do so. Many fear that the use of law enforcement will be counterproductive and that they may be exposed in the process.

“Scams targeting homosexuals are different from those targeting heterosexuals – they consciously take advantage of the marginal status and stigma of the gay community in our society,” said Wu, the assistant professor.

E + / People Visual

E + / People Visual

Jiankang, who fell into the trap while aware of these scams, said many gay men on dating apps were still unaware of these schemes – and their quest to find love. online has often had unintended consequences. He said a few of his peers from a Shanghai-based gay support group, where his volunteers spent between 20,000 and 30,000 yuan to protect their identity and sexual orientation.

But Jiankang refused to pay his crook, and Ice eventually stopped messaging him.

“At one point I felt sorry and wanted to ask him why he had such an extreme hatred for gay people – why he was turning this hatred to attack and exploit us,” Jiankang said. “He purely used the vulnerability of those gay men who were too scared to go out for money.”

A year after the episode, Jiankang said he was still bitter about his dating apps experience, but retained his Blued account nonetheless – he just uses it more cautiously. He has since learned to invest a little more time before accepting phone calls or clicking on potential date links and even tries to educate potential crooks – something he tried with Mind-Piercing Ice.

“I told the scammer that same-sex marriage is already legal in places like Taiwan and the United States,” Jiankang said, referring to their conversation. The crook replied, ‘I know, I know, you still can’t survive (be gay) in this country. “”

Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Shijue Select / People Visual, republished by Sixth Tone)

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