Perusing dating sites? Beware the latest twist on romance scams: The Sugar Daddy set-up

There’s a new twist on romance scams that is preying on profile holders at “sugar daddy” dating websites, and last year complaints to Fraud.org about the scam exploded by more than 250 percent

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, love is in the air at dating websites of all sorts. But there’s a new twist on romance scams that is preying on profile holders at “sugar daddy” dating websites, which have grown in popularity in recent years. In 2019, the number of complaints from consumers about this type of scam exploded at Fraud.org, growing by more than 250 percent.

If you’re not familiar with "sugaring,” you’re not alone. It’s a growing trend where younger women and men (who call themselves sugar babies) look for an older “sugar daddy” or “sugar momma” to pay them in gifts or cash in exchange for companionship (which may or may not involve sexual relations). The practice exists in a legal gray area, but judging by the number of followers of some of the more popular sugar babies on social media networks, including Instagram and YouTube, there may be significant numbers of consumers looking for these types of relationships. For example, one of the more popular sugar daddy websites, Seeking.com (also known as SeekingArrangement) reportedly had 4 million users (including 1.2 million college students) as of 2017.

Given the rise in popularity of these sites and the sensitive nature of the relationships, it’s no surprise that scammers are increasingly preying on the community.

Here’s how the scam works: A scammer approaches a user who is looking for a sugar daddy or sugar momma on dating websites or social media platforms. The scammer poses as a prospective sugar daddy and nurtures a relationship, ultimately offering to pay off the credit card balance of their sugar baby victim. If the victim agrees, the sugar daddy scammer will obtain the victim’s credit card account credentials and then deposit funds into the victim’s account, appearing to have paid off the debt.

Once this is done, the scammer—still playing the role of sugar daddy—demands that the victim purchase gift cards (such as Apple iTunes cards, Google Play cards, or Steam cards) that can be redeemed remotely as a thank you to their new patron. Too often, the sugar baby goes along with the scheme (remember: their credit card account appears to have just been paid off by their generous new friend), buys the gift cards, and sends codes for the cards to their sugar daddy. Any funds deposited on the gift cards is quickly drained by the scammer. Sugar babies who refuse to buy gift cards report being met with abusive, threatening, or even black-mailing responses from the new friend and often cave to the pressure.

Unfortunately, the accounts used to pay off the credit card balances are fraudulent, and once a credit card company catches on, the recently deposited funds will disappear from the account, leaving the victim on the hook for both the original balance and the cost of the newly purchased gift cards.

We don’t recommend that anyone consider looking for a sugar daddy or sugar momma online, but if you do, be aware of some of the red flags of this scam. All of these are flags for online dating relationships of any nature, and can happen via any dating website:

  1. If a new romantic interest asks for your credit card account credentials or any other sensitive information such as bank routing information, Social Security number, home address, or cell phone number, it’s a scam.
  2. If a “sugar daddy” offers to pay off one or more of your debts (such as credit card balances, student loans, rent, etc.), there’s an enormous possibility it’s a scam.
  3. If your “sugar daddy” urges you to move conversations that began on dating websites on to email, IM, text message, or over the phone, it’s very likely a scam.
  4. Never share sensitive photographs or text messages that you wouldn’t want to be viewable publicly with a sugar daddy or other online suitor.

If you’ve been approached by a sugar daddy you suspect of being a scammer, or if you’ve already fallen victim to one of these scams, contact your bank or financial institution immediately. While your bank may not be able to recover lost funds, they can shut off access to compromised accounts to prevent further damage.

Finally, you can help other consumers avoid this scam by filing a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We share complaints with our network of nearly 200 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars.