Rakesh, a 27-year-old man from Kolhapur, was happy that he found his dream man. His boyfriend was from London. They used to talk almost all the time through social media, WhatsApp and email. His boyfriend said his family liked Rakesh and as soon as the COVID-19 protocols get over, he will take him to London and they will live together. Rakesh was happy to know that because he had been thinking of living his life freely in a country where gay couples are treated equally and with respect.
About three weeks passed, Rakesh did not doubt that his boyfriend would leave him someday. One day the boyfriend said he has bought expensive gifts for Rakesh. The gift box included an apple laptop, iPhone, Tab and some cash too. “I asked him not to send all of that. But he said he is not able to come to India to meet me that is why he wanted to send me gifts. He also said if I refuse, his mother would be disappointed. I was convinced and allowed him. Little did I know that I was going to be fooled and lost huge money,” told Rakesh.
After two days, Rakesh received a call from some courier office demanding Rs. 25,500 for receiving the gift parcel. He was confused. He called his boyfriend to confirm. His boyfriend said he needed to pay to get the gift parcel delivered. “I was so blind in love that I did not think twice and thought that my boyfriend was anyway sending me expensive gifts. Rs. 25,500 is nothing against the gifts. I had only Rs. 10,000 so I borrowed Rs. 15000 from one of my friends and paid the amount,” added Rakesh.
Rakesh did not receive the gift parcel even after paying the money. The very next day, he received an email from the courier office saying he needed to pay Rs. 30,000 because the gift parcel includes some money in foreign currency. “The mail also read that if I fail to pay the mentioned amount I would be sent to jail. I was shocked. I shared this with my boyfriend. He said he doesn’t know much about Indian rules and suggested to pay the money. I was stressed. I didn’t know what to do. On the second day, I again received a threatening email. I began losing focus on my work. I also was not eating enough. I used to cry a lot during this troublesome time. I could not share this with anyone because I was not out about my sexuality,” added Rakesh.
Almost five stressful days later, Rakesh finally mustered courage and shared the trouble he was in with his family. However, he did not share that he was gay. Along with his family, he approached the police and shared everything that had happened to him. Till then he had not stopped receiving threatening emails from the courier team. He revealed his sexuality to the police as he had to be transparent with them.
“I found that I was trapped in a scam. It was all fake. The boyfriend was a fraud. The courier team was fake. I was shocked. After that, I stopped receiving romantic messages from my boyfriend. I was in trauma for being trapped in the scam by a man whom I trusted so much. It has been a month now and I am still not able to build trust with anyone. Whenever I receive messages from anyone through dating apps or social media I feel I will be trapped in a scam by the messengers,” narrates Rakesh.
Rakesh is not the only one who has lost money in a scam, but there are thousands of people belonging to LGBTQ community across India who have lost not thousands but lakhs of rupees. A married gay man from Delhi lost Rs. 80,000 in a scam almost like Rakesh. A gay man from Lucknow paid Rs. 50,000 and was excited to receive the expensive gifts from his foreign boyfriend but found out that he lost his money to a fake boyfriend. He was blocked from the dating app and WhatsApp by his fraud boyfriend.
This is not the only kind of scam happening with queer people, there are many more. Daksh, an engineer living in Mumbai, was on a date with a man at his own home. He was happy as he had always wanted to be with a Muslim man. Upon arriving, the man asked Daksh to undress. As soon as he took off his clothes, the man called his other friends in without letting Daksh know. They threatened Daksh to hand them his expensive watch, android phone and cash.
“They said if I refuse they will expose my identity to my society members. I am not open because of a non-accepting society and family; that is why I was scared and gave them whatever they demanded. I lost more than one lakh including watch, mobile and cash,” shared Daksh.
Since then he can’t trust any Muslim. “I am sorry for sounding Islamophobic, but I fail to trust any Muslim now. I know even people other than Muslim also do such scams, but since he was a Muslim so I started hating Muslims. Now I meet people very cautiously,” added Daksh.
Another common scam technique is where the boyfriend claims that he is from the US, Dubai or any other country. Out of the blue, he plans to visit you, calls you up from the airport and then starts asking for money on the pretext of custom duty charges. Matin, a Muslim and married business man from Bangalore, narrates his scam story. He and his boyfriend from Dubai talked for about a month and then the boyfriend said that he is coming from Dubai to meet him.
Matin was happy to know that. His boyfriend asked him that he has booked a hotel in Bangalore city and will spend a month together. He sent Matin a flight ticket also. “I was sure that he was coming to see me. But then on the day of his arrival, I received a call from him saying he is caught by the customs department for carrying a lot of money. He asked me to transfer Rs. 40,000 to sort out the problem. He also promised that once we meet, he will repay the money,” narrates Matin.
“Everything seemed so real that I ended up paying the money online and was excited to see him. But after an hour, I observed that his profile is not available on Grindr. He also blocked me on WhatsApp. I was astonished. I called the airlines to check if my boyfriend was coming or not. However, I found that the ticket was fake,” added Matin.
Matin was so tense that he left home and spent the entire day out. “In the evening I removed dating apps from my phone and thought to stop living my gay life that I have been living secretly for 15 years. Now I rarely use dating apps . I’m always scared of getting trapped in another scam,” added Matin.
Such scams are happening across India irrespective of caste, religion and city and have become too common. Gautam Yadav from Humsafar trust informs that 90% of the time, such scams happen to people who are not out about their queer sexuality. Gaylaxy talked to LGBTQ activists to find out how one can avoid such scams and what steps can one take if they fall for it.
Get connected with like-minded people:
No matter if you are in the closet or out, you should be connected with people who belong to the LGBTQ community. When you are connected, you come to know of what’s happening against and for the community around the world. “If we are connected to our community we get to know others’ experiences and learn from others’ mistakes,” suggested Ali Neyaz who runs an LGBTQ community group Khwabeeda Parinde (K P Queer) in Pune.
Inform your closed ones while meeting strangers:
If you are meeting anyone through dating apps or social media for a date, then inform your close ones. You must have someone/s with whom you can share the gay side of your life. “This way they know where you are and whom you are meeting. If anything happens they are there to help you out. The best way is to share your location to closed one for the time you are meeting with someone on a date,” suggested Sayed Raza Hussain Zaidi from Awadh Queer Pride, Lucknow.
Approach police soon after you are scammed:
Many people don’t approach police thinking police will misbehave with them and out them to their family and society. But Gautam Yadav of Humsafart Trust advices that one must take the help of a local LGBTQ NGO and not hesitate in approaching the police. “Those who have been scammed should contact nearest LGBTQ NGOs or groups and approach the police. NGO people know how to convince police to act. You may get your money and other stuff back that you have lost to scammers. But you have to be courageous to deal with it.”
If the situation is handled smartly then your identity may not be revealed to your family and society. Rakesh from Kohlapur whose case was mentioned above did not have his identity revealed.
Losing money, expensive stuff and trust in people takes a huge toll on those who have been trapped by scammers. In this situation, it is necessary to receive counselling. Find someone who understands you and share your emotions. This helps to get over the situation with ease and live your life again. The frustration and depression after losing money can be intensified if your emotions are not expressed. There are LGBTQ organisations and people always ready to help you out.
Be cautious and enjoy your life again:
This is obvious that those who get trapped in such scams lose trust in people and hope with their life. But not living your life fully also adds up to frustration and depression. “People should start living their life but with cautions because actively seeking a partner and falling in love also works as a therapy to your mind and body. This will rejuvenate your life,” suggested Love Preet founder of Rehbar trust in Lucknow which works for the LGBTQ community.
Note: The names of the characters who were trapped in scams have been changed to save their identity.