Increasing numbers of young women are being scammed by fake sugar daddies on escort websites, it's been revealed.
Platforms such as Seeking Arrangements allow people to connect with others interested in pursuing a "sugar baby" financial relationship, in which one partner (usually an older man) pays another (usually a younger woman) for dates, companionship and sometimes sex.
Interest in such arrangements has increased since the world went into lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic this year, with Seeking Arrangements reporting a 74% increase in sign-ups from March to June.
But rather than earning cash for their beauty or charm, a large number of women have found themselves scammed out of their own money by fraudsters posing as sugar daddies.
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Elizabeth Mirah, a 28-year-old Massachusetts woman who was about to lose her job as a cafeteria manager, has described how she was conned by a man on the fetish social networking site FetLife.
"We went back and forth and he seemed like a legitimate person," she told Business Insider.
He asked for her bank details and soon two cheques for $1,500 (£1,125) each appeared in her account.
Then the man asked her to send $500 (£375) to his nephew, and she felt obliged to do him the favour so sent a total of $1,000 (£750).
But three days after Ms Mirah transferred the money, the cheques she'd been sent bounced and the money vanished from her bank account. She had been scammed.
She's since filed multiple complaints with the site but doubts she'll ever get that much-needed money back.
Only 16% of Seeking Arrangements members are officially registered as sugar daddies.
Hundreds of users say they've received unsolicited messages from scammers pretending to be sugar daddies since the start of lockdown. If the victim responds, the scammer usually asks them to prove their loyalty by sending them an advance payment.
It's believed many of the scammers work for an organised network due to the similarities between the users' photos, messages and tactics.
A 22-year-old former sugar baby names Josh says he's dodged many attempted scams this year, having learned to recognise the signs of a fake offer.
"The sugar daddy is in the position of power," he said.
"So if the sugar daddy is questioning you and your loyalty and what you can do for them, that's when they're probably trying to take advantage of you."
Between April and June, tweets containing the words "sugar daddy" and "scam" increased 51% compared to the January-March period.
Along with fake offers of financial arrangements, all kinds of online scams have become more common during lockdown, with fraudsters using popular apps and websites like WhatsApp and Netflix to try to score victims.
In April UK Police issued a warning for Brits to beware of "sextortion" phishing schemes in which people are encouraged to send naked photos or videos of themselves, which the scammer uses to blackmail them.
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