Like many people during the early months of the pandemic, Ari, 21, lost her job in the summer of 2020. She’d been working at a casino in the U.K., but government shutdowns forced her employer to lay her off. “I had to get money somehow,” she says.
Ari, whose full name has been withheld to protect her privacy, had an account on OnlyFans, a direct-to-consumer content platform popularized by online sex workers that exploded in popularity during the pandemic. But she’d never really worked to promote her account, until after she was laid off. She’d started to grow a minor following, raking in about $3,000 per month. Then another creator on OnlyFans, a woman we’ll call Cora, messaged her. She’d just gotten a new manager, Nathan Johnson, who’d promised her she could one day earn nearly $100,000 per month; he’d just lost a model, and he needed a new one to take over her Instagram account.
Ari was intrigued. She was somewhat familiar with Johnson, a 21-year-old social media advertising wunderkind of sorts who on his website touts press coverage from the New York Times (in which he was quoted in a piece on spammy Instagram cash giveaway accounts), Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. Johnson owned a model management company, NJAC LLC, and he was recruiting Ari via his Instagram account Enhancement, which has more than half a million followers on Instagram; in its bio, Enhancement promises to help earn creators $100,00 per month. Ari says Johnson also claimed to be partnered with Baddie, a popular Instagram page promoting OnlyFans creators. (When reached by Rolling Stone, Johnson declined to comment whether NJAC has any relationship with Baddie, though he said the two management companies shared employees at the time.)
Ari thought there were a few red flags — Johnson’s company didn’t have its own website, and she didn’t speak with him on the phone. But Cora, who’d been with Johnson for a month, seemed to be making a lot of money, and Ari was lured by Johnson’s promises of helping her grow her Instagram and OnlyFans following. “[Cora] said you really want to be famous,” Johnson wrote in WhatsApp messages provided to Rolling Stone. “And that’s perfect cause that’s what we make people.”
“Yessss I wanna be rich,” Ari responded.
“Well perfect cause I want to be rich too lol,” Johnson responded.
Ari signed with Johnson, and for a few months, she says, he appeared to deliver on his word, with Ari making $75,000 in the first month. Then she realized he wasn’t actually giving her insight on how to grow her page or what type of content to post; according to Ari, he was just advertising her content on Instagram meme pages. (In a conversation with Rolling Stone, Johnson disputed this: “of course we advised on strategy,” he says.) Plus, her earnings were dropping; one month, she says, she only made $10-$15,000 out of $50,000 of earnings. When she confronted Johnson about this, he said he was spending much of that money on ads, but when Ari asked for proof of how much he was spending, he refused to show her any invoices or documentation, citing company secrets. And according to texts provided to Rolling Stone, he also publicly posted sexually explicit content that she had intended to only sell privately, though he apologized promptly after doing so. Ari says Johnson also pressured her to produce more content, though Johnson denies this, providing text messages to Rolling Stone that he did give her time off when she requested it.
After Ari says she heard from another model that Johnson was not, in fact, partnered with Baddie, she’d had enough. “I realized he was taking too much from me and i felt it wasn’t worth it to continue carrying on,” she says. In February, she sent Johnson a WhatsApp message saying she wanted to terminate their contract. He responded by threatening to take legal action against her if she continued to post content on social media, referring to a sunset clause in the contract she’d signed. “All no competes and clauses of early termination will be applied, and appropriate action will be taken if they are not! Thanks for your time with NJAC,” he wrote in response, adding that Ari would also have to forfeit the previous 30 days’ worth of income.
Johnson tells Rolling Stone he only made such threats under pressure of a lawyer, and had no intention to enforce them. “I’m a reasonable person. I was like, ‘This is what the contract says,’ not, ‘this is what I want to do,'” he says. “She was being very emotional and not very respectful during that conversation.” He also says NJAC’s contracts no longer include sunset clauses or non-competes, though he declined to provide Rolling Stone with a copy of the updated contract.
After Ari left Johnson, she says, he continued to post as her under her Instagram and OnlyFans accounts and reselling explicit content she had already sold to her followers at a vastly reduced rate, leading to subscribers complaining about her scamming them. It was at this point that she hired attorney Anibal Luque to send a cease-and-desist to Johnson. When Johnson kept posting, Luque sent another one. (Johnson says he had agreed with Ari beforehand that he could post on the account for 30 days afterward, and stopped immediately after receiving the initial letter from her lawyer. He says he did not receive a follow-up letter because he was out of town at the time.)
In the months since she left Johnson, Ari says she’s heard from nearly half a dozen models who had similar experiences with him, including Cora, who also left after she alleges Johnson took 60-70 percent of her income. “Nathan was a very nice guy, until you didn’t comply with his agenda,” Cora says.
Another model who worked with Johnson, who we’ll call Natasha, also signed up with Johnson after losing her job in May of 2020 due to Covid (it was, in fact, Ari who inherited her Instagram account when she left NJAC). When she signed with him, she agreed to give him a whopping 66 percent of her earnings. But like Ari, she alleges she saw far less than 33 percent of her total earnings. “When I asked him about it he told me that all the money spent on ads came off the top,” she says. “I thought that was pretty normal being new to the industry and everything. I didn’t really question it.” She asked him to show her a spreadsheet showing the ad costs, which Johnson provided, but says that something didn’t add up. Natasha posted a video on her OnlyFans saying she was creating a new account. Johnson continued posting as Natasha to her OnlyFans and Instagram using some of her old content, which Johnson says was also written into her contract, and sent her a cease-and-desist for violating the non-compete.
When reached for comment, Johnson says the majority of his models (NJAC now has 30) have had positive experiences with his agency. He attributes his spats with former models to a combination of miscommunication and youth and inexperience with the adult industry. “It’s sad they feel I did them so wrong when, compared to what other people would do, i did what a good person would do, which is only do what was agreed on and that’s it,” he says. He attributes Ari’s negative experience with NJAC to her producing less content and being dissatisfied about her income, having inherited her Instagram account from a model who made almost twice as much as her. “When you put a dollar sign essentially on your body, it’s kinda fucked up,” he says. “Her seeing her income [plummet], that can discourage you a lot.” He also noted that Ari reached out to Johnson shortly after threatening him with legal action, asking if she could pay him to retweet her OnlyFans link onto one of his Twitter pages.
But Ari says Johnson is an example of a manager exploiting those who wish to enter the fledgling creator industry, who overpromises to his models and then blames them when he fails to deliver. “We just feel like we’ve almost been scammed by this man,” she says, referring to herself and other models who’ve come forward. “He seemed to be taking far too much and when we wanted to quit he made it really hard for every model.”
Ari is one of hundreds of thousands of content creators who have joined OnlyFans, a custom content platform popularized by sex workers that has more recently been embraced by more mainstream influencers and creators, many of whom are posting more vanilla content. Though OnlyFans launched in 2016, after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, newly unemployed people started flocking to OnlyFans in droves, with the platform reporting a 75-percent increase in new sign-ups in April 2020 alone; by December 2020, it had gone up to 85 million users. (As of January 2022, that number is 170 million.) A shoutout by Beyoncé in her “Savage” remix, as well as mainstream celebrities like Bella Thorne joining the platform, helped to lend OnlyFans mainstream visibility; it has also arguably contributed to the platform starting to push sex workers out, with OnlyFans announcing in Aug. 2021 that the website would start prohibiting sexually explicit content due to pressure from payment processors. (It later reversed this decision following outcry from creators on the site.)
OnlyFans’ increased popularity has translated into an emerging cottage industry of third parties, such as agencies, consultants, and managers, looking to show newcomers the ropes and make a few bucks in the process. Prior to the pandemic, only major stars (primarily, adult performers with huge followings) would hire someone to manage their OnlyFans by sending fans DMs or posting content for them, says Amberly Rothfield, a marketing and business consultant for online content creators. “Before the pandemic it was just major stars and their boyfriends who ran their accounts,” Rothfield, who uses “xie” and “xir” pronouns, says. “Then a girl would be like ‘Hey, your boyfriend is running your account, would he like to run mine, I’ll give him a percentage.’ More and more people started getting into it.”
Yet as the platform has exploded, OnlyFans managers have since become “little mom-and-pop businesses” taking a small cut of a creator’s earnings in exchange for managing their content. “The pandemic happened and I skyrocketed,” says Dominique Bradley, owner of Bad Bunny Agency, which manages OnlyFans content creators. In addition to managing about 15 models directly, Bradley makes YouTube videos advising creators and managers on how to make money on OnlyFans. “The coronavirus increased the amount of people at home, increased the amount of people who have money able to spend, and the number of people who need to pay their bills. And that created a huge opening in the marketplace.”
But as modeling agencies pop up, bad actors are increasingly flooding the space as well. Last December, for instance, a number of models came forward to allege that the firm Unruly Agency, which manages prominent creators and OnlyFans influencers, as well as an affiliated firm called Behave, used deceptive recruiting practices to entice creators and, in some cases, posted nude or sexually explicit content without their consent. One model filed suit against the agency for alleged financial blackmail and inappropriate behavior, such as posting an illicit video of her to her OnlyFans page without her consent and rerouting her payment information to the agency’s own bank accounts. And nearly half a dozen OnlyFans creators Rolling Stone spoke with shared similar stories about other managers and agencies. (Referring to this and another lawsuit against the agency, Buzzfeed quoted a representative for Unruly saying that the claimsin the lawsuits “are broadly stated and not supported by any evidence.”)
Some of these supposed managers flooding the OnlyFans space use model recruitment as an opportunity to try to get free sexually explicit content. In August 2020, for instance, an OnlyFans creator named Josie, then 23, says she was contacted by another OnlyFans creator on a “like-for-like” Twitter DM thread, a common method for creators to encourage each other to follow each other and promote their content. The woman told Josie she had an opportunity for her with the modeling agency Infinite Possibilities, which was setting up a 3D holographic magazine, and set her up with a man who identified himself via text as CEO Russel Andrey. They got in touch on WhatsApp to set up a phone call. “Very quickly, before we started the interview, he said, ‘You’re not wearing too many clothes, right?’” Josie says.
According to screengrabs of WhatsApp messages Josie shared with Rolling Stone, Andrey encouraged her to send one-minute videos of herself wearing “minimal clothing.” Josie says he then asked her to write a positive review of his portfolio on Google Reviews, which she did, and then suggested they set up a FaceTime “training.” “He wanted me to show off my skills, my talent, over the phone with him watching… I think what he wanted me to do was masturbate on video chat with him, [because] he told me to get my toys and I was gonna want to get naked,” says Josie. “I was like, ‘I can see where this is going.’”
Josie told Andrey she wasn’t interested and then told a friend about the application process, who suggested to her that she was being scammed in exchange for providing Andrey with free content. An embarrassed Josie edited her Google review to call the company out, only to receive a reply saying the agency had done a background check on her and found trafficking and drug charges against her (which would have been impossible, she says, because she never gave Andrey her real name). Since then, “I’ve heard a lot about fake training where people can go to OnlyFans models and say, ‘we can make you a real model, just go for this training,’ and it turns out the training is just collecting a whole bunch of your work for free,” she says. (Andrey did not reply to requests for comment.)
Other aspiring OnlyFans modeling agents appear to simply be trying to capitalize off the platform’s boom, without having the knowledge or skill set to do so. Roxie Sinner, 18, was living at home with her parents and selling premium content on Snapchat when a 22-year-old man named Samer Morcy DM’ed her on Instagram. Morcy claimed to be a model manager with an agency called Bombshell. “At the time I didn’t know anything about the industry. I just wanted to make money to move out,” she says. So when Morcy asked for 34 percent of her earnings in exchange for promoting her on Instagram and preventing her content from being leaked, she didn’t bat an eyelash. “Honestly, I thought he’d ask for 50,” she says. (The standard in the industry, Rothfield says, is between 5 and 15 percent.)
Then Roxie started noticing the checks Morcy was sending her were less than she expected. When she confronted him about it, she says he admitted he was taking 50 percent, a number she says they had not agreed to. She also received DMs from an anonymous person addressed to her legal first name, saying Morcy had been impersonating her on Snapchat and selling her nudes without her consent. “That’s when I really lost my shit,” she says. She confronted him over text, where he denied impersonating her and claimed she had agreed to 50 percent to start with.
The next day, Roxie says, she woke up to realize she had been logged out of her OnlyFans. When she managed to get in touch with a representative, they said she had tried to delete her own account. Though OnlyFans eventually gave her back access to the account, she estimates Morcy still owes her about $16,000, and never got a “single cent” back. “He knew I was a naive little child,” she says. “He knew I’d go along with everything he said.”
Lora is another OnlyFans creator based outside the U.S. who claims to have been contacted by Morcy on Twitter last spring. She says Morcy represented himself as an agent employed at Veno Management, a firm that specializes in managing growth for models and influencers. “He promised that I would be in the top one percent in a few months of working with them. That did not happen,” she says. Lora also shared with Rolling Stone a copy of the contract she signed upon starting work with Morcy, which lists the agency as Bombshell Magazine Limited, or BML, Agency. A search for Bombshell Magazine Limited yielded one Facebook page with three likes, which lists an Orlando, Florida address as headquarters for the company; that address is the same as the address on Morcy’s driver license.
When contacted by Rolling Stone, Veno Management denied any involvement with Morcy. “Veno Management is a social media management agency that is absolutely in no way, shape or form associated with the individual you have mentioned as ‘Samer Morcy’,” the company said in a statement. When reached for comment, Morcy denied any wrongdoing while he was working as a manager for OnlyFans models, and said that the anonymous DMs were written by a former friend who was trying to smear his reputation.
Part of the reason why the OnlyFans space is so rife for exploitation is because of the stigma attached to the sex industry in general. Many who have joined OnlyFans within the past two years are completely new to the adult industry, and thus are concerned about being outed to their family or friends. It is not unheard of for this to happen to content creators when the relationship goes south, says Rothfield. “If you try to leave it’s basically, ‘I know who you are, I know where you live, it would be a shame if this info came out,'” xie says.
Within the industry itself, hiring someone to manage your OnlyFans carries a fair amount of stigma. Rothfield compares the manager cottage industry to a Fight Club: “it’s just something you don’t talk about.” Because the ostensible purpose of OnlyFans is to connect content creators directly to their followers, there’s a belief among many fans that if creators hire someone to answer their DMs or post content for them, they’re “scamming” or “catfishing” consumers — even though the practice of hiring social media managers is widespread, if not standard, in the mainstream entertainment industry. “People sign up for OF because they want the one-on-one connection with you. They think they’re talking to you,” says Jessica Sage, an online sex worker and stay-at-home parent. Sage briefly hired a manager two years ago after her following grew, only to terminate the relationship when, she says, without her consent, he started offering her subs custom content that she was not comfortable making. “I realized they wanted to do things to help their pockets,” she says. “I felt like at the end of the day, [the relationship] would hurt me more than it would benefit me.”
For those just starting an OnlyFans, hiring a manager may at first seem like a good way to navigate an unfamiliar industry. Autumn Nelson, a popular content creator who goes by @ColorsOfAutumn on Instagram, was approached by her current manager on Instagram in 2017, when the influencer industry was just starting to take off. “I never thought I could be one of those people with a large Instagram. I was just a technician who worked in health care,” she says. “But I thought, why not? Let’s just try it and see what happens.” She says with his help, she reached 10,000 followers within a week, completely organically. She now has 1.2 million Instagram followers and a sizeable following on OnlyFans, where her manager takes an eight-percent commission to post content for her and respond to pay-per-view messages. She has also started managing models on an Autumn’s Angels Instagram account, inviting models to sign up for OnlyFans using her referral link, a common way for creators to make money. (OnlyFans has a program that offers five percent of a new model’s first-year earnings to the creator who referred them.)
Despite her own success, however, Nelson cautions OnlyFans newcomers against hiring someone to outsource their content management off the bat. Prior to hiring her current manager, she says, she had a bad experience with a former manager who coerced her into videos that she “wasn’t comfortable with at all,” which ended up being posted on the website ManyVids without her consent for additional profit. The manager, she alleges, also sent photos to her family and tried to sell foot fetish videos to a private client. “As you build your platforms, you kinda can determine who’s trustworthy or not,” she says. “I would say don’t go with a program you see ads for online. Find an individual you see as trustworthy, preferably a female, who understands how personal and uncomfortable it can be posting your nude content online.”
In theory, OnlyFans itself discourages creators from sharing their passwords and other account info. In a statement, OnlyFans tells Rolling Stone: “All creator accounts on OnlyFans must be owned by and be registered in the name of the creator and be paid out to the creator’s bank account. The platform has no involvement in any agreements made between creators and third party managers off of the platform.”
But Rothfield says that as the manager industry grows, OnlyFans could afford to be much more responsive to creators who may find themselves getting fleeced by unscrupulous entrepreneurs. “In our experience working with them they haven’t been the most receptive or involved,” says Luque, Ari’s attorney. “When we’ve tried to get things taken down it hasn’t been the most fruitful.” Rothfield says that she is seeing an increasing number of creators get locked out of their accounts and seek out xir help for recovering them. With OnlyFans, xie says, “you kinda just have to pray. You email support and you hope they get back to you.”
But as more and more aspiring adult content creators join OnlyFans, and more and more aspiring entrepreneurs gravitate to the platform to make a few bucks, some content creators are warning newbies to steer clear of people claiming to be agents or managers. “They make all these promises: ‘You’re gonna grow so much, you’re gonna make thousands of dollars and be super successful,’” says Sage. “But at the end of the day it’ll benefit them more than it benefits you.”