Fraud on OnlyFans: an inside job?

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OnlyFans is a subscription-based social media service which allows the sharing of adult content. In order to view the content published by a specific creator or performer and follow their profile, users must first subscribe – at a cost of anything between $4.99 and $49.99 a month per profile. Content creators get to keep 80% of this money, with 20% being retained by OnlyFans.

Performers can also receive tips from subscribers via the platform, as well as produce exclusive content that requires further payment to access and view – either in the form of locked content published on their feed, or in response to individual subscriber requests.

In theory, the platform provides a safe, easy-to-use space for adult performers, at a time when the adult entertainment industry has been so thoroughly diluted and disrupted by free online access to adult media. Only last year, The New York Times appeared to applaud OnlyFans for giving control back to the performers, giving them the freedom to decide what content they want to produce, and the ability to earn money directly from their work.

Unfortunately, all is not as it may seem.

Fake accounts – a scam bigger than it might appear

Over a year ago, HackForums contributor known only as TheChaosKiller began selling OnlyFans accounts to other forum users. Setting up a profile is quick and free on the site – so why would anyone pay a middle-man?

In order to begin operating and bringing in revenue, an account must first be approved by the platform’s moderators. For around $200, TheChaosKiller offers a fully verified account – the equivalent of a Twitter account with an ‘official’ blue tick icon – ready to start charging money from subscribers, without the need for any further proof of identity.

The accounts are being purchased by individuals – hundreds of them to date, as evidenced by the HackForums thread – who then pretend to be the person in the profile. To this end, they engage in a well-known online type of fraud known colloquially (and rather unpleasantly) as ‘e-whoring’. After downloading packs of photos and videos of a person – oftentimes stolen from a legitimate account – and upload them to a profile to fool potential subscribers. They then offer further (usually non-existent) content to viewers for a price.

It gets worse

In the description of his service, TheChaosKiller – who has been identified as a man from the UK with alleged work experience as a document fraud analyst for the U.S. Government – claims to have found a ‘legal loophole’ which enables him to get these accounts verified.

According to the OnlyFans website, account verification requires an up-to-date government issued photo ID document (preferably passport) as well as a complete W9 form for U.S. residents. So how is TheChaosKiller creating ready-made, verified profiles?

An inside job?

Logically, two explanations are possible – one no better than the other, and both easy to uncover by moderators and requiring some level of inside help to remain operational.

Either, as he himself claims, he has discovered a workaround involving registering as a ‘representative’ of a model, or stolen documents and ID details are used for account verification. The first suggests the company allows this operation to take place, while the second involves identity theft and high-level document fraud.

Even if TheChaosKiller is engaging in ID theft, it would be impossible to do so on this scale without OnlyFans taking notice. In order to withdraw money fraudulently earned from these fake profiles, TheChaosKiller’s customers naturally have to enter their own bank details. To any reputable platform, a disparity between the details from the ID and those of the bank account would be an immediate red flag.

And yet, after over a year of operation and hundreds of fake accounts, there is no evidence of TheChaosKiller’s customers complaining of any lasting legal trouble connected to the running of the fake accounts. What makes this situation even more suspicious is the fact that all of these profiles are part of a referral network – all linking back to TheChaosKiller. Theoretically, then, all it would take for the entire operation to be uncovered is just one account being found as fraudulent.

As it happens, this theory was proven correct when the owner of one of the fake accounts used the platform for further fraud – a credit card scam. His activity was immediately discovered by OnlyFans and, as expected, the entire referral network of accounts was taken down.

Not for long, as it turned out. Once TheChaosKiller’s customers began complaining about their removed accounts on the HackForums thread, he assured them that he is discussing the issue with the OnlyFans administrator. He didn’t disappoint: before long, some accounts became reinitiated and others replaced, and the operation continued without further interruption.

This curious turn of events puts unexpected weight behind TheChaosKiller’s claims to being a former OnlyFans employee and to having continuing contact with the platform’s staff.

Questionable practices

This isn’t the first time that the integrity, ethics, and security measures of OnlyFans have reason to be questioned. In 2018, WebcamStartup revealed a worrisome insight into the inner workings of the platform.

Having changed to a payment processor that wasn’t keen on adult content, OnlyFans changed its Terms of Service to – confusingly – ban sexually explicit images and videos. Nathan Hammond, WebcamStartup’s founder, reached out to OnlyFans Support to clarify once and for all whether adult media was allowed on the platform.

After he publicized their response – stating that adult content is not allowed, and at the same time essentially giving advice on how to avoid being detected while posting said adult content – OnlyFans claimed Hammond’s email was ‘a spoof’. The platform then quietly changed their ToS without notifying its users.

During their publication of this exchange with OnlyFans Support, WebcamStartup’s Empress Mika also highlighted the 2017 (ultimately unresolved) allegation that the owner of OnlyFans stole the idea for the platform from Lindsey Leigh’s Follow+.

The tip of the iceberg

Compared to the overall performance of the company in reviews and on social media, OnlyFans’ run-in with Hammond appears like a fairly minor issue.

The majority of the platform’s reviews on Trustpilot – a whopping 58% – falls in the ‘bad’ category, with complaints from both content creators and subscribers. The latter report a series of issues, ranging from feeling they’ve been cheated on the quality of content they receive after payment – no wonder, if even ‘verified’ accounts can’t be trusted – to being charged after cancelling their subscription.

The most common complaint among content creators, meanwhile, appears to be having their accounts suddenly closed without a warning. After months and in some cases even years of successful operation, accounts are suddenly blocked – a decision motivated by OnlyFans by an unspecified ‘violation of guidelines’ – without giving users the chance to withdraw their earnings. Twitter user StaceyVip reports having lost $20,000’ worth of her earnings in this way, while Shae Ashbury shared the story of her profile being suddenly closed for allegedly ‘promoting and advertising escort services’ – after she’d previously been told by OnlyFans support that escorts were accepted on the site.

Sitejabber reviews (where OnlyFans has less than 1.5 stars out of 5), Reddit threads, and Twitter all tell the same story of creators not receiving pay-outs, viewers feeling misled, and support desk being absent or thoroughly unhelpful.

With all of this in mind, it might be high time to question the continued existence of ‘the hottest site in the adult entertainment industry’. 

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