Our community can be targets of scam artists. They prey on poor, desperate people who fall for sales promises that are too good to be true.
Some people commit non-financial fraud that targets trans people. Some of those perpetrators are trans themselves. Examples include:
- Online predators who steal photos and pretend to be that person (catfishing)
- People who create fake friends or identities (sockpuppeting)
- People who paste their own faces into images of others (wannabes)
- People who make up crimes that happened to them, especially hate crime hoaxes (factitious victimization)
- People who claim to have unverified traits, conditions, or diseases (factitious illness, malingering, “sick role,” Munchausen by Internet)
The key points in the section:
- Hoaxers seek to establish their credibility at the expense of your credibility.
- Hoaxers avoid any details that can be independently confirmed.
- Hoaxers will prey on your respect for their privacy.
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
- Don’t publish knee-jerk responses to unconfirmed rumors.
- Trust, but verify.
Twenty hallmarks of trans hoaxes
If someone you don’t know says they are trans and wants something from you (attention, time, photos, money, goods, services, or personal information), it’s a good idea to confirm that they are who they say they are.
Just because one or more things on this list may apply to someone (including you), that does not mean you or they are a hoax, but the more red flags, the higher likelihood you are dealing with a hoaxer. See how to avoid hoaxes below this list.
Hoaxers are rarely trans guys. The hoax character created is almost always a trans woman.
Hoaxers almost always claim to be college age or younger, typically between 14 and 19. In some cases, they claim they are older now but transitioned at that age. See the section on the transkids.us hoax for details.
Hoaxers almost always claim to be 100% passable.
Hoaxers often claim to have differences of sex development.
Hoaxers frequently claim medical or surgical intervention as minors.
6. Not known in person
Our community is pretty tight-knit, so at some point, we are all connected through someone with an established identity who uses their real name. The key goal of a hoaxer is to gain the confidence of a credible and well-known person. For this reason, anyone who is out and who uses their real name needs to be extra careful about vouching for or giving a platform to anonymous or pseudonymous people. They look for the weakest link, the easiest target. Hoaxers seek to establish their credibility at the expense of your credibility.
Hoaxers frequently claim to be disabled: either a developmental disability (like autism), a psychiatric disability (like post-traumatic stress disorder) or a physical disability (like legal blindness). They might also claim to be disabled in order to receive welfare. These alleged disabilities are frequently self-diagnosed and often not visible/verifiable. They often claim they are unable to work but are nonetheless able to spend most of their waking lives online.
8. Online constantly
Hoaxers frequently live much of their lives online, spending extraordinary time on forums and social media, or in other role-playing situations like games, etc.
9. Anonymous online interests
Many hoaxers have been kicked off services that require a fixed identity, so they hang out on unmoderated places where they can use fake names or no name. Other key hallmarks include an interest in Japanese animation, involvement in the furry community, posting on the chans, and posting on transgender fiction websites.
10. Posting on platforms primarily for older transitioners
Older transitioners and crossdressers are especially vulnerable to being taken in by hoaxers, because the hoaxer often represents something they idealize/fantasize about, too. They end up living vicariously through each other in a feedback cycle of codependent validation.
11. Seeking out vulnerable people
Hoaxers often seek out vulnerable people and try to draw them into their confidence. They want to hear details about the vulnerable person’s life. Sometimes these details are then incorporated into their own hoax to lend credibility. They are especially interested in communicating with people who are in crisis, because it makes the hoaxer feel loved and valued. It also mitigates the response when they are caught. The people who were betrayed have invested their trust and emotion in the hoax, so they want to believe the story even as it unravels. After it unravels, they often blame themselves instead of the hoaxer. The classic example is Lori Allison MacNeil.
Hoaxers often claim a remarkable family history. This can be extreme tragedy (runaway, homelessness, abuse, etc.), or extreme good fortune (wealth, prestige, influence, etc.).
13. Remarkable accomplishments
Hoaxers frequently claim they are very talented at something (won a competition, attend an exclusive school, work as a model, hold a state/national record).
14. Sexual/erotic elements
There is often an erotic/sexualized component: obvious ones like stories of sexual abuse from a relative or sexual assault, and less obvious ones like a wedding, loss of virginity, or new/first boyfriend. Sometimes it doesn’t seem erotic to most people, like cheerleading or a slumber party, but has an erotic element in how it is reported. Some hoaxers claim to be sex workers or porn stars, or they exaggerate their involvement in these occupations. Overfocus on a specific aspect, like clothes, anatomical development, or detailed accounts of a sexual experience are common. The classic example is Boy2woman.com.
Hoaxers take one of two paths with photos. The first path is to steal or manipulate photos. Some steal from either non-trans models or real trans porn stars, preferring glamorous or sexualized images. In some cases they add their own faces to a model’s body. These stealers are the easiest ones to catch. Others steal images (trans and non-trans) that look plain or girl-next-door in order to be more believable and harder to catch. The other path is to avoid photos altogether, because there’s a high risk of getting caught when using photos. The classic example is the Internet Imposters section of Gallery of Goddesses.
16. Escalating drama
In order to maintain the level of attention they crave, hoaxers frequently escalate the tragedy or problems in their lives past the point of credulity. This tends to happen over time, with the story starting off fairly plausible and getting less and less credible. However, those who make an emotional investment in the hoaxer early on are willing to believe the story as it gets more and more elaborate, even if it goes far beyond what most people would consider believable. A classic example is the “transkids.us” hoax which escalated far past the point of believability, but is still repeated as true by a few lazy/gullible academics.
As the hoax gets more elaborate, inconsistencies will appear: age, location, year in school, medical history, names of friends and relatives, details in stories, stolen photos which show a different person. When confronted, they often resort to the two options below.
Hoaxers often have defenders appear out of nowhere for the first time when inconsistencies come out. The defenders are often friends or family who vouch for the hoaxer, claim to know the hoaxer in person, and provide additional details. Sometimes the hoaxer will get in a conversation or even an argument with the sockpuppet to make it seem like a different person.
19. Persecution/need for secrecy and privacy
If they continue to be challenged about inconsistencies, hoaxers often move past sockpuppets. They will claim they can’t confirm details of their story because they are being stalked, are under police protection, are not out at work/school, work for the government, or are in fear for their lives. A key to perpetuating the hoax is avoiding any details that can be independently confirmed, so they will prey on your respect for their privacy. The classic example is Denise Magner/Kiira Triea.
The final stage in the hoax is usually the murder or suicide of the hoax persona. Sometimes the person dies of a disease, usually suddenly. Sometimes this is preceded by the death of a friend or relative, to test the waters. The “death” can be triggered by being on the verge of being caught or by a need for the highest amount of attention possible. The death of the hoax persona is the ultimate fantasy for many hoaxers, because the outpouring of attention and the eulogies are the most distilled form of the validation they seek. The classic case is the murder hoax perpetrated by Edeyn Hannah Blackeney.
How to avoid hoaxes
Be suspicious of unsolicited contact
- If someone you don’t know contacts you out of the blue, be very careful with how you interact.
Don’t share personal information
- Scammers want this information to find you or to use in their own hoax stories.
Avoid free dating apps and sites
- Low-quality dating services have a higher number of hoaxers.
Never send money
- Never, ever send money or gifts to someone you have not met in person.
Be cautious with people in other countries
- If you get scammed by someone in another country, there is often nothing you can do legally.
Ask for a salute photo or video
- The easiest option is to request a photo or video where they do something specific. Ask them to send a video saying your name while touching a specific finger to a specific part of their face.
Ask them to jump on a video call with you
- If they refuse, they are probably hiding something.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
- Violent crimes and deaths require independent confirmation from the press or police, or from someone well-established in the community who has personal and direct knowledge of the matter. Do not rely on web postings. Do not rely on friends or relatives unless they are known to you personally, as in you have met them in person face-to-face.
Trust, but verify
- Hoaxers seek your attention and your emotional response. It’s very easy to get caught up in the immediate emotions of a situation and not be able to step back and look at things objectively. They are counting on that emotional response from you. Don’t let that cloud your judgment.
A note to platform moderators
If you run a forum, blog, channel, or other platform which has contributors or moderators, you have a responsibility to your readers and members to confirm the identities of all staffers and contributors. If people wish to contribute anonymously or pseudonymously, they should not be placed in a position of authority or trust unless it has been definitively proven that they are who they say they are, including their medical history. This is especially true when they are dealing with minors.
I recommend that you get copies of government-issued IDs from all contributors and try to meet them all in person. If that is not possible, have someone you know personally and trust completely meet them in person in their area. If you are doing work like suicide prevention or giving contributors or moderators access to personal information about your readers and members, those people should be even more carefully vetted.
These simple steps will protect you, your audience, and our community from those who would exploit and betray our trust and love. We need to have a zero tolerance policy on this kind of fraud, because someone who does this once will almost always do it again unless they are made to answer for their actions.