OnlyFans is often credited with revolutionizing the porn industry. However, many sex workers on the site are left feeling “violated.”
This is not due to the nature of their work—selling sexual imagery on the pay-to-view platform—but instead, because users are viewing their content then getting refunds via fraudulent chargebacks.
The creator, not OnlyFans, is left to reimburse the money when a customer disputes a payment with their credit card company, despite the scammer already having accessed their content.
Claire, who sells explicit photographs on the site, has had to pay back money after being told the transaction was fraudulent in “around 10 different instances.” She also believes this is about to happen again to the tune of $700.
“I know that sounds weird,” she tells Newsweek. “But sometimes you can kind of pick up when somebody is about to do it because they block you on everything after a while after spending a lot of money.”
She says these chargebacks, which can come through up to six months later, make her “feel violated.”
“I feel unheard and my income is being taken away. This is my only income right now, so sometimes I have to worry: ‘Oh, is this guy going to make me lose my medicine this month?'” she adds.
OnlyFans take a 20 percent cut of all content, yet Claire explains: “The site doesn’t really protect us at all against people who do chargebacks, when somebody will call their bank and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t actually purchase this.’
“And then immediately, you know, the money is taken from our accounts, even if they paid us and received a service like a custom album. OnlyFans doesn’t do anything to protect us. In fact, they really seem to protect the scammers in that case.”
While OnlyFans is firm about not offering refunds, its site reads: “If a User seeks a chargeback or dispute from their credit card company, the User’s access to OnlyFans may be discontinued or limited. If you believe your account has been limited in error, please contact support.
“Any amounts that Users seek to refund or chargeback will be reported to the Creator and will be removed from the Creator’s income.”
“A worker’s rights issue”
But why do sex workers have to pay back the money themselves when, legitimate fraud or not, someone has viewed their content?
Myles Jackman, a British obscenity lawyer who specializes in cases related to pornography, tells Newsweek: “We should look at this as purely a worker’s rights issue. The content creators themselves have a legitimate revenue stream so they shouldn’t be persecuted for the actions of their subscribers.”
According to Jackman, it is usually a case of: “Man purchases sexual services, has a happy time, and then afterwards feels guilt, remorse and shame, and also the loss of money, and so tries to get the money back.”
“Platforms like OnlyFans really need to raise their game, in terms of representing the rights of the performers in a much more proactive fashion,” he adds.
Melonfarmerswife, a creator who often posts sexual content alongside her husband, says she has had three chargebacks.
She told Newsweek: “Every time I’ve reported it, they [OnlyFans] have basically said it’s a fraudulent card—there’s nothing we can do.”
Although she has only lost up to $100 dollars she has “seen creators lose hundreds and hundreds of dollars, to thousands…. a lot of them do rely on the money to live so it does get quite scary for them.”
But it’s not just about the financial loss, it is also an issue of consent. These creators did not choose to let their bodies be seen for free, and it can be upsetting to know that they have inadvertently done so.
Melonfarmerswife explains: “I felt really sick when it happened to me, and I was very upset about it at the time, because you do feel really violated. That’s the first feeling you get, and I’m sure people will think that’s strange given what we do.”
OnlyFans told Newsweek that: “All chargeback requests are reviewed by OnlyFans officials to determine the legitimacy.
“To further protect our Creators, a User can only chargeback once and then they are blocked from the platform. We are constantly improving our policies to ensure Users and Creators are aptly protected.”
However, Newsweek has viewed many Reddit threads of verified OnlyFans creators discussing the prevalence of the issue.
In one post Candislicer explains: “I got a huge chargeback back in September for a guy that literally asked for photos, spent a few hundred and months later I got a chargeback for the entire thing even though I had screenshots of the chat confirming he wanted them.”
In another Misensepai reveals: “Someone bought about $1k worth of content from me over time and now all of the transactions have become chargebacks. I feel so violated and used and unsupported by OnlyFans.”
Xoxolustxoxo responded: “I can’t understand how he was able to dispute that much, and I agree it’s really gross how Onlyfans does nothing to protect their creators. That’s the main reason I’ve been thinking of deleting my account lately.”
Catherine Stephens, an activist for the International Union of Sex Workers (IWUS) has been a sex worker for over 19 years.
Speaking to Newsweek she describes the issue of chargebacks as being similar to the dangers that have always plagued the darker side of the sex industry: “It’s the same old story. You’ll get people who will lull people into a sense of safety with the intention to do harm, whether it’s kind of financial harm, emotional harm, psychological harm, or up to and including rape or robbery.”
Stephens also explained that the reason why this may not be taken seriously is due to the “hostile policy environments” and “hostile media environments” surrounding the sex industry.
She says: “There’s a lot of emphasis on the sex part of the sex industry rather than the trade part of it. And, actually, this isn’t about ‘boobies’, it’s about somebody getting ripped off through an online platform.”
The rise of OnlyFans
Since its launch in 2016, OnlyFans has become increasingly mainstream. The company is the brainchild of British businessman Tim Stokely, who previously created adult performance websites GlamGirls and Customs4U, and the majority shareholder is Leonid Radvinsky, an entrepreneur behind the porn site MyFreeCams.
Although the platform was originally a place to view adult content, there has been a shift towards influencers and celebrities using the site. In March 2020 OnlyFans was name-checked in a Beyoncé lyric and, a few months later, Disney star Bella Thorne created an account.
The actress made $1 million in the first 24 hours, and by the end of the week her earnings had topped $2 million. Following this, OnlyFans imposed a cap on tips causing outrage among sex workers. Many accused the star of “gentrifying” a platform that was a lifeline for sex workers, especially during the pandemic.
Alexandra LaRue, chapter director at Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP USA) told Newsweek that the chargebacks don’t affect “celebrities like Bella Thorne who make five figures, but they do hurt everyday folks trying to keep their lights on or clothing on their children’s backs.
“OnlyFans doesn’t think we’re watching, but we’re more than observing. They’d be wise to straighten up before a mass exodus. “