At the heart of queer people’s quest for ‘foreign friends’

Despite rising incidents of the ‘foreign friend scam’, queer people continue to seek friendships and relationships abroad and online. At the heart of this quest is a desire to combat loneliness and an aspiration for upward mobility.
At the heart of queer people’s quest for ‘foreign friends’
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TW: Mentions of assault and rape

In 2020, a man claiming to be a doctor from Qatar contacted H*, a 30-year-old Hyderabad-based gay man, on Grindr, the popular gay dating app. A video chat later, the duo exchanged Instagram handles and a friendship bloomed. Until last year, when things turned suspicious and H cut off contact.

Not only was the man “very narcissistic”, H says, but also, in November 2023, claimed to be visiting India: “He said he was going to be in Delhi and then fly over to meet me in Hyderabad. I said, ‘Cool, come over, we’ll meet.’ Then, one day, he called me and said, ‘I got stolen; I’m broke. Can you book me a hotel in Hyderabad?’”

“That’s when alarm bells went off in my head that this is not right,” H continued. Smelling something fishy, he stopped talking to his foreign friend, his only one to date.

In the virtual world of friendships and relationships, not everyone, however, can spot such cons. Just last month, a 28-year-old Mumbai-based gay man was duped of around Rs 10 lakh when a certain ‘Ramos Bennard’, claiming to be a Texas-based doctor, befriended him on a dating app. In February, ‘Bennard’ claimed to be visiting India to meet his friend, carrying with him an expensive wristwatch as a gift. The next day, the man from Mumbai received two phone calls, first from ‘Bennard’ and the next one from ‘Priya’, who claimed to be a customs officer. While ‘Bennard’ cried that he had been arrested for carrying a huge sum of foreign currency, ‘Priya’ asked that Bennard’s Indian friend pay Rs 75,000 as tax in exchange for his freedom.

What started as a one-time transaction accelerated into a monetary black hole at extraordinary velocity. Between February 6 and March 6, ‘Bennard’ had swindled the victim of Rs 10 lakh towards “foreign currency conversion charges, accommodation fees, food charges, compensation charges, anti-money laundering taxes, etc.,” an Indian Express report states.


The ‘foreign friend scam’ involves large geographical distances and even bigger sums of money. Last year, The News Minute reported that a man was duped of Rs 33 lakh similarly; in 2021, Vinay Chandran, a peer counsellor and the executive director of Swabhava LGBTQIA+ Support Services, wrote about other cases where queer men lost lakhs of rupees in a bid to save their ‘boyfriends’.

The modus operandi of the scam involves a person befriending the victim over a social media platform or a dating app – a phase that extends over days, months, and, sometimes, years. During this time, the scammer might talk about their personal problems and/or display hyper-narcissism, while making it abundantly clear that they come from an affluent background. Once adequate rapport has been established, the scammer then calls the victim claiming to be in great distress at the customs and seeking money. Once the transfer(s) are made, the friend, the friendship, and the money – all disappear, often without a trace.

While queer people are not the only victims of the scam (see this, this, this, and this), they do form a sizable population vulnerable to the same. For example, when the online platform Yes, We Exist put up a post on the scam, many queer people responded in the comments stating that scammers had tried their tricks on them.

This edition of The Next Wave steps beyond popular notions of gullibility to ask whether loneliness and failed quests of friendships lurk behind queer people’s vulnerability to such scams. Such a speculation should ideally surprise us: not only are we witness to a growing public assertion of queerness in the country, but we also live in times when social media platforms and dating apps have created new possibilities of bridging distances and finding friends and partners.

Yet, queer people I spoke to narrate a contradictory reality that is defined by persistent – and sometimes, expanding – distances, and elusive friendships and relationships.

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