Lisa was swiping through Tinder one day when a particular profile caught her eye. “Andrew” had loaded only a few pictures onto the app, one of which showed him bare-chested, his fists raised in a fighter’s pose.
“I thought, ‘well, he looks alright. He’s into his sport. He’s kind of my cup of tea, looks-wise. Give him a swipe,’” Lisa, an English woman in her 30s, told VICE World News. “Then everything just went mad.”
“I had no idea it could lead to all of this, just talking to somebody on Tinder.”
This was in early 2016, and the profile belonged to Andrew Tate, now infamous around the world as a misogynistic “manosphere” influencer and alleged human trafficker, but then little known outside kickboxing circles in the UK.
Lisa agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity; she doesn’t want her real name used for fear of retribution from Tate and his army of online supporters. She said she began chatting with her new match, and they soon went on their first date to a London restaurant, with Tate picking her up and dropping her home again. He generally presented himself as “really charming and very nice,” but different from anyone she’d met before, Lisa said.
He gave her a business card that read: “TATE ENTERPRISES UNLIMITED, KICKBOXING WORLD CHAMPION and also a millionaire and all round nice guy.” On the reverse, it promised he could perform “miracles by appointment” and gave a résumé-style rundown of his purported qualifications and attributes: “assassinations plotted,” “dragon slaying,” “stud service,” “millionaire lifestyle.”
They kept seeing each other, but before long, Lisa noticed that certain things felt off. She became aware of social media posts that showed Tate with a lot of other women. When she started asking more questions about his lifestyle, he responded with an ultimatum: if she wanted to be his girlfriend, she would have to come and live with him and work for him, although he was initially cagey on exactly what he did, or where he was based.
Eventually, Lisa was able to get to the truth. Tate was running a webcam sex business based in Romania, with ambitions to expand the operation elsewhere. The job he was pushing her to take – as documented in WhatsApp messages and voicenotes shared by Lisa with VICE World News – would involve performing sexually on camera, or chatting sexually with men online, or helping to “manage” the other women in the company, although he insisted she’d invariably need to perform on camera herself to properly understand the business.
She said she came to realise that Tate was using apps such as Tinder to meet and recruit women like her en masse for the business, attempting to “groom them” using the so-called “loverboy” technique – a strategy where men attempt to make women fall in love with them in order to exploit them in the sex industry.
Investigators in Romania, where Tate and his brother Tristan are being held as part of a probe into allegations of human trafficking and rape, have accused the brothers of using the “loverboy” method to recruit women into working for their webcam operation. The prosecutors allege that at least six women were “sexually exploited” by what it called an “organised criminal group” involving the Tates, who deny the charges against them. When the judge in Bucharest extended the Tates’ detention for an extra 30 days last month, he cited their “capacity and effort to exercise permanent psychological control over the victims.”
Tate himself has openly endorsed the strategy, selling online courses, including a so-called “Pimping Hos Degree” or “PHD” program, instructing his followers about how to meet women through social media, have sex with them, make the women fall in love with them, and then recruit them to work for their webcam sex business.
Lisa said she had no intention of being exploited by Tate and, once she realised what he was up to, called him out.
“I said to him, ‘I know what your game is, you’re recruiting people on Tinder,’” she told VICE World News. “What he does is groom people.”
Lisa is one of several women who spoke to VICE World News about being approached by Andrew Tate on apps such as Instagram and Tinder, harnessing the platforms as tools in his hunt to recruit young women around the world, targeting some as young as 16, for his webcam sex business.
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Their accounts illustrate the so-called “loverboy” method: using social media to approach women en masse in an attempt to generate a response and eventually sleep with them, then alternating between charming or intimidating them in their efforts to exert control over them. The latter, according to 2015 research on human trafficking carried out by a public watchdog in Belgium, is a crucial tactic that loverboy pimps use to exert control over their victims: “treating [women] nicely on one occasion, and badly the next, in order to … reinforce their loyalty.”
The loverboy method existed long before the invention of social media, or the arrival of Andrew Tate into the public consciousness. But Tate’s brazen promotion of his strategies has clearly highlighted the dangerous potential of what happens when the method is amplified with social media technology, weaponising popular apps as powerful tools for recruiting, grooming and exploiting women around the world.
It’s a problem that’s attracted the attention of governments. A Dutch government webpage on human trafficking notes that social media is “playing an increasing role” in the loverboy phenomenon, giving traffickers “much greater scope for establishing contact with victims and gathering information about vulnerable boys and girls” and making it “easier for them to force their young victims into the sex industry.”
Tate has taught these same exploitative techniques to legions of his followers, through online video training courses such as the “‘PHD,” which he sold on his website for £377 to £778. While the course is no longer available on his website, links to the content can still be found online.
Adapting techniques from the so-called “pick-up artist” subculture, Tate’s “PHD” course promised to teach his followers how to target women on social media, have sex with them, get them to fall in love and exert psychological control over them. A related Tate video training course called “Webcam,” which is also no longer available on Tate’s website but remains accessible elsewhere online, followed on from the “PHD” in promising to teach men how to groom their newly acquired multiple girlfriends to work in the sex webcam business. VICE World News has viewed both training courses in their entirety.
“My job was to get women to fall in love with me. Literally,” reads a since-deleted page on Tate’s website advertising the PHD course. “[M]eet a girl, go on a few dates, sleep with her, test if she’s quality, get her to fall in love with me to where she’d do anything I say, and then get her on webcam so we could become rich together.”
In the “Webcam” course, Tate states that the “psychological aspect” of his teachings was the same as in “street pimping,” in that they relied on encouraging a woman to love their pimp, rather than fear him.
“This is one of the biggest things people don’t understand about the pimp game,” he said. “She has to respect you and love you and want to work with you.”
Records of voicenotes and WhatsApp messages from Tate, shared by Lisa with VICE World News, clearly document these nakedly manipulative attempts to groom her into working for him, in what she now understands to be a textbook case of “loverboy” grooming.
The proposition he consistently put forward to Lisa in these messages and voicenotes was that being his girlfriend would mean living with him and working for him; in return for her labour, and faithfully obeying his instructions, she would get access to his supposedly luxurious, jetset lifestyle, and his love.
“Lie to some twats, make money, see me every day,” was the formula he proposed in one message, seen by VICE World News.
And although she could not expect him to be sexually exclusive with her, his true feelings for her would be above any other woman, he promised.
“I didn’t realise at the time how clever he was with his grooming tactics,” said Lisa. “He would just sort of sell you a lifestyle.”
In the messages, Tate repeatedly pushed Lisa to try performing sexually on camera – something she had no interest in doing. In one exchange, he tried to set up a date for them, during which he suggested she could “try the cam thing, just try it [and] see how easy it is.” He dangled the carrot of her potentially managing a webcam business he is planning to open in Amsterdam.
“You can’t manage the business if [you] don’t know the buisness [sic], so you’d have to do [cam work] for a few weeks first,” he wrote. “Maybe if you like it, relocating to [Amsterdam] becomes more realistic.”
In another exchange, Tate tried to set up a call between Lisa and one of his female employees with the goal that they can “become friends” and that she can reassure Lisa about working for him.
“Ask her what life’s like, then decide,” he wrote. “She takes cash off losers on a computer. No one fucks her. No one touches her… It’s all a game.”
This strategy, of using female webcammers to put the hard sell on potential recruits to join the industry, is one Tate explicitly advocates in his online teachings. In his “Webcam” course, Tate talked about getting trusted women who already work for him to “sell” the proposition of webcam work to potential recruits.
“You don’t do the selling,” he said. “The girl has to hear from a girl.”
Lisa said this was a tactic he was clearly trying with her. “He would try to use women to manipulate other women into coming and joining the party, if you know what I mean,” she said.
When Tate became frustrated that his techniques weren’t persuading Lisa to work for him, he switched to a more domineering tone in his messaging, making big promises and more urgent demands. Lisa said he became highly controlling, demanding that she pick up her phone if he couldn’t reach her.
In one voicenote shared with VICE World News, an exasperated-sounding Tate issued ultimatums.
“I’m having kids in a year, one. Two, you’re going to do as I say, regarding absolutely everything else: where we live, where we go, everything. Otherwise we have absolutely nothing to talk about,” he said in the voicenote.
In another voicenote, he instructs her to book a flight to see him immediately. “If you want the king back… you have to fly here. Look at flights, tell me which one you want, I’ll book it,” he said. “Get the fuck over here, and show me you’re sorry. Get on a plane.”
Lisa told VICE World News that she had “cottoned on” relatively quickly that Tate was attempting to manipulate her and other women. Barely a month after they had started dating, she said, the penny dropped that he was using Tinder on his frequent travels to find potential new recruits for his webcam business in each location.
On the 16th of February, 2016, she confronted him in a WhatsApp exchange, accusing him of using the app to mass recruit women like her for his webcam business.
“If this is how you recruit your staff, sleep with them, vet them, make sure they are tough enough to take shit, you need to stop using [T]inder,” she wrote in a message shared with VICE World News.
Tate – who Lisa said was travelling constantly during the six months or so they were in contact, between places like Bucharest, Amsterdam, London, Liverpool, and Thailand – responded by telling her she was “a very smart girl.”
“You need to understand the dynamics of my operation,” he wrote, before explaining that Tinder allowed him to find attractive women.
“I can load [T]inder [R]omania and find better looking girls than [in E]ngland. Easy,” he wrote, before sending her screenshots of a string of young Romanian women he had found on the app.
VICE World News made multiple attempts to contact lawyers acting for Tate seeking his comment for this story, but did not receive a response.
While Tate used Tinder to try to recruit Lisa, it was not the only platform there’s evidence of him using.
A British woman told BBC News she was manipulated into camwork by Tate after he approached her out of the blue on Facebook and they struck up a relationship. The woman’s account bears close resemblance to Lisa’s story, except that she took him up on his invitation to visit him in Bucharest and start working for him.
Another British woman, whom VICE World News has previously reported as having been exploited by Tate, said he groomed her into cam work after they met on Facebook – although her method of recruitment differed from Tate’s apparent standard modus operandi, in that she was put in touch with him via a mutual Facebook friend who claimed Tate wanted to speak with her.
But it was the photo-sharing platform Instagram that Tate considered the perfect app for his methods.
In his “PHD” course, Tate sings the photo-sharing app’s praises, recommending it to his followers as “your number one tool to get laid.”
While he conceded he “had found good girls on Tinder,” he claimed the “problem” with the dating app was that “every girl on Tinder has fucked someone else,” and that “only real ratchet-ass hoes are left on there.”
The reason Instagram was “so fantastic,” he said in the course video, was that “women sit on Instagram all fucking day.” The only real drawback of the app, he said, was that women users were already deluged with DMs from random men; to overcome this, Tate gave his followers a recommended opening line intended to generate “intrigue” and spark interaction through their mass cold-calling.
The “cold opener” entailed simply stating the city of the woman being targeted, followed by a question mark – often adding “a completely pointless emoji on the end, some cherries, or an orange or a strawberry,” according to Tate.
“So the girl sitting there, she’s scrolling through ‘How are you? You’re sexy.’ ‘How are you? You’re sexy.’ … ‘Bucharest? Strawberry,’” Tate explained in the course. “Then they start to think: ‘Why does he want to know where I am? Like, does he want to fuck me? Does he see me? Does he have something of interest for me?’ And they usually reply, ‘Yeah, why?’ … Because they’re interested.”
Daria Gușă was just 16 when she received an unsolicited direct message from Andrew Tate on her Instagram account.
The message on July the 4th, 2020, a screenshot of which she shared with VICE World News, read simply: “Romanian girl” followed by the strawberry emoji.
Gușă, a Romanian student who is now 19 and studying at a UK university, was wary of the approach, feeling it was “creepy” that a man in his 30s, with a huge social media following, would be messaging a high school student.
“It was a very obvious thing,” she told VICE World News during a Zoom call. “I had my high school in my bio, for God’s sake. I only had like 200 followers, and they were all high school students. I can say that there’s not any man with two brain cells in the world who could have thought, ‘Oh, nice, a 25-year-old.’”
“I was like, ‘This is creepy. Definitely something going on.’”
Gușă’s suspicions deepened when she found out shortly afterwards that three of her high school friends in Prahova county, north of the Romanian capital, Bucharest, had also been messaged by Tate around the same time, receiving almost identical short, cryptic messages. “I think he just changed the emojis,” Gușă said.
One of the girls was in her grade at school, while the other two were in the grade below.
Gușă said she was already wary of such advances because there was widespread awareness of the threat of loverboy grooming in Romania, which is a major target for human traffickers. Uncaged, an anti-trafficking charity, says that the loverboy method is “the single-most common method for enslaving Romanian women”; the Romanian government has even distributed posters in schools to raise awareness of “loverboy” grooming.
Nevertheless, two of her three friends responded to Tate and ended up having online conversations with him.
Gușă said that her family connections – her father, Cozmin Gușă, is a high-profile political analyst and former politician in Romania – made her feel like she had the support network to speak up about being targeted by Tate. But her friends did not feel able to do so, fearing being mobbed online by Tate’s army of supporters, as others who have made accusations against him have done.
Gușă’s friends showed her the messages they had exchanged with Tate at the time, in online conversations that had followed a similar pattern, she said. Initially he complimented their looks, telling them they were beautiful, then asked if they wanted to meet up, promising to take them to a particular restaurant or pick them up in a fancy car. When they stopped replying because they did not want to meet him, Gușă said, Tate responded with abusive messages insulting them.
Gușă is relieved that neither she nor her friends met up with Tate, and has sympathy for the women who were allegedly manipulated into his orbit through his loverboy technique. She believes Tate was clearly using social media to trawl for young, naive-looking girls who would be easier to manipulate and groom into his webcam industry.
“That’s an age where girls feel the most insecure and they’re the most excited to get any attention,” she said. “The fact that he’s specifically stated that he manipulates young women into sex work, I think that’s a problem.”
Tate has repeatedly spoken publicly about his preference for younger women, including telling VICE World News in 2022 that he considers them “less jaded, less upset, less suspicious” than older women.
Women who have publicly spoken out about Tate have faced huge blowback from his fanatical army of online supporters, and Gușă is no exception. Since speaking to reporters about her brush with Tate, she said she has been deluged with abuse, calling her a liar or warning her to back off.
“I get ‘You’re a liar,’ or ‘You’re such a slut, you had Instagram at 16 – it’s your fault.’” She said others have messaged her with details of her current whereabouts and threatened her, saying; “Daddy isn’t here to protect you.”
VICE World News reached out to Tinder and Instagram for a response on how Tate used their platforms in his efforts to groom women – and how the platforms could potentially be used in other trafficking attempts.
Tinder did not comment directly on Lisa’s experiences, but said through a spokesperson that the platform had a “a zero tolerance policy for any type of illegal activity, including grooming.”
“Tinder constantly invests in ways to protect members, including a robust suite of safety features, in-app education and detection technology. We also work directly with law enforcement when needed.”
A spokesperson for Meta, the company that owns Instagram, said Tate had been banned from the platform in August – when he was kicked off a number of major social media platforms for breaching policies forbidding gender-based hate.
“[We] have a range of features in place to protect women and girls from unwanted contact. Anyone can control who can send them DM requests, and adults can’t start DM chats with under 18s who don’t follow them,” said the spokesperson.
“We use technology to find potentially suspicious adults, and automatically prevent them from finding, following and interacting with teen accounts. We’ve also worked with women’s safety experts to develop rules designed to address harms that disproportionately affect women, for example sexualised or misogynistic language, threats of sexual violence and the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery.”
Lisa looks back on her brush with Tate with bemusement. She feels embarrassed to have dated a man with such toxic attitudes to women, and slightly worried that the few people that knew of their connection might mistakenly think she was caught up in his seedy business.
Because she figured out pretty early on that Tate was trying to recruit her, she doesn’t believe she would have succumbed to his grooming attempts. But given the apparent scale of the mass recruiting techniques, she said she is certain that some other, more vulnerable women will have. “I’m just pleased I never flew out there to stay with him,” Lisa says. “I think you would be made to feel isolated and controlled.”
While the alleged extent of Tate’s exploitation of women – and the radically misogynist public persona he had cultivated – were shocking, she wasn’t surprised by any of it, given the deep insecurities he’d shown glimpses of during the time they were in contact.
“He wants to be seen as superior and manly, and if you don’t think he’s the top, then he doesn’t want anything to do with you,” she said. “He talks about women like they’re crap.”