Sugar babies, beware the scammer salt daddy

Fake sugar daddies are taking over sites like Seeking Arrangement to steal from sex workers.

by Beth Ashley
08 December 2021, 12:11pm

Still from 'Shiva Baby' on MUBI

When Paignton* started out as a sugar baby, she was thrilled by the prospect of being financially independent for what felt like the first time. The idea of using her own charm and allure to do so “made it even sexier”. The 21-year-old was a student at the time and — as many of those in full-time education are — very much in need of some extra cash. And who knows, if all went to plan with this new venture, she might well want to continue on after graduation. “I thought I might even meet some interesting people,” she says.

At first, things were going smoothly for Paignton. “I eventually gained enough confidence to go from meeting people for drinks to offering escorting services and I was making really good money,” she says. One man changed that. “I met Dave* on Instagram when I searched the #sugardaddy hashtag for a new connection. We were chatting for a few hours, and then he asked if he could start sending me an allowance in exchange for photos and videos of myself.” 

But Dave wanted Paignton to send him some money first. “He said it was a loyalty test. I was to send him £500 so he knew I ‘wasn’t messing around’, then he’d supposedly send me two grand to begin our arrangement. Luckily, I knew something was up and I quickly blocked him, but someone brand new to being a sugar baby could have been in danger.” 

Paignton’s experience is nothing out of the ordinary. Young sex workers across the country are being scammed out of thousands by fake sugar daddies, dubbed ‘salt daddies’ by their community. According to a report in The Times, men are signing up to sugar dating websites such as Seeking Arrangement, Sugar Daddy Meet and Rich Meet Beautiful — which facilitate alternative romantic connections based on financial benefits and mentorship — but an increasing number of these daddies are only pretending to have the means for sugar arrangements. They trick sugar babies into sharing their personal information and bank details (something that would come up quite naturally in conversation between sugar baby and daddy anyway), and use it to steal from them.

“I felt like the world was ending when I realised.”

Many salt daddies will promise to send a gift, or set up a new credit card or bank account for the victim. Instead, they will open the account or card under the victim’s name and run up debt using their identity. Once they’ve learned the answers to typical security questions (mother’s maiden name, first pet, birth date and place), it’s game over. Other salt daddies are known to use fraudulent cheques to trick their sugar babies. This was the unfortunate case for 25-year-old Stacey*, who said she was scammed by a salt daddy after she tried to start a connection with a man online. “I felt so fucking dumb and I hated myself. I was so upset.” 

“He sent me fake cheques,” Stacey explains. “The funds were added to my bank immediately when I scanned them, so I thought they were real. Then he asked me to send a portion of it back via bank transfer because he’d overpaid. I sent £400 in total and both checks were supposed to be for £2,000. I felt like the world was ending when I realised.”

Salt daddies will often scam their way into enjoying the services of their victim — everything from sexting and receiving pictures, to various sex acts — without paying. 23-year-old sugar baby Eliza* recalls being scammed by a salt daddy after she’d already had sex with him twice. Like Paignton, she first started sugaring as a university student, at 20 years old. “I wasn’t very good with money and didn’t have enough of it to cover my rent during my second and third year of living in university accommodation,” she says. “I thought I’d try being a sugar baby — I needed the money and I preferred older men anyway.” 

Eliza was enjoying the sugar baby lifestyle, meeting with a few daddies regularly, until she moved to London to start her masters. Soon after, she received a WhatsApp message from a man she’d connected with on Seeking Arrangement a long time ago, asking if Eliza would like to meet up with him. Initially, she agreed to meet with him but cancelled at the last minute, requesting a video call beforehand to verify his identity. 

The man agreed to this but refused to show his face on the video call, saying he’d prefer to be ‘discreet’. Though this was admittedly a red flag for Eliza, she had found that a lot of sugar daddies weren’t comfortable with photos, videos or showing their face before meeting, as many of them are married. So, the two agreed to meet at a hotel. 

As soon as the door of the room closed, the man asked Eliza for her bank details so he could send her some money for meeting with him. She gave them as he fiddled with his phone, but noticed the money was not coming through. “I figured he would send it later, maybe. And sugar daddies don’t really like it when you bring up money all the time, so I left it,” she explains.

“Nowadays, it's actually extremely difficult to find a real sugar daddy on the sites.”

“A lot of sugar babies are escorting, but it makes the sugar daddies uncomfortable if you make that part of the transaction obvious.” They had sex twice, having agreed to £300 for the meet during their call. But hours went by after the two left the hotel, and the money never appeared. “I messaged him eventually, and he said he wasn’t going to pay me because it was the first meeting, like this had been a free trial. I tried to argue, but he blocked me.”

Former sugar baby, influencer and OnlyFans creator Amber Sweetheart says this concept of a “test drive” is a common red flag and way that daddies violate arrangements in the sex work world. The very reason she stopped being a sugar baby stemmed from similar situations. “I’ve had so many sugar baby friends who’ve been scammed, and I’ve had daddies that don’t understand the ‘arrangements’ part, and become possessive. Nowadays, it's actually extremely difficult to find a real sugar daddy on the sites.”

The British bank NatWest have record of 40 cases of sugar daddy scams in the past year, and say that the real figure could be much higher, but victims “may be too embarrassed to speak out about the con”. More accurately, victims are likely afraid to come forward due to the country’s criminalisation of sex workers — fearing that they’ll get into further trouble rather than receive any help. Sadly, this was the case for Eliza. “I wanted to report what happened to me but I couldn’t because sex work is technically illegal and I was escorting,” she explains. “My family didn’t know I was a sugar baby. When I heard recently that other sugar babies were being scammed, I couldn’t believe that so many girls came forward. Maybe I should have done that.”

“I’ve since learned that sugar daddies are often just bad clients who’ve been blacklisted by escorts.”

Campaigners United Sex Workers explain that although sex work is technically legal in the United Kingdom, there are still laws that criminalise aspects of sex work, such as brothel-keeping and solicitation laws. “Whilst those laws are supposed to keep sex workers safe from exploitation, the real impact often leads to traumatic events like brothel raids,” they detail. “And if a sex worker is charged with solicitation, they may have their children taken away from them, or have landlords refuse to rent to them.”

United Sex Workers also note that within countries with decriminalisation of sex work, like New Zealand, there has been an increase in reports of violence because sex workers can come forward without fear, and work with the state to make themselves safer from dangerous clients: “Sex workers need to be able to report instances of violence without the fear of incurring further violence against them, whether that is from laws that seek to prosecute sex workers, or from the stigma of being a sex worker when reporting something.”

Another reason Paignton didn’t report the salt daddy who attempted to scam her is because she didn’t want to ‘out herself’ as a sex worker. She has since quit being a sugar baby. “So much of sugaring is abuse,” she says, having now switched to full service escorting and OnlyFans work exclusively. “I’ve since learned that sugar daddies are often just bad clients who’ve been blacklisted by escorts. There’s a fantasy narrative that sugar babying is this glamorous lifestyle where money is obtained easily for just a few chats and nude exchanges. There’s so much more to it than that.”

*Names have been changed.

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