A BLACKMAILER is taking photographs of punters leaving saunas and threatening to post them on Facebook if they don’t hand over cash.
The rogue snapper has struck outside several establishments, taking £50 a time from the customers he catches on camera.
He pretends to be an outraged resident who wants to close down the sauna, and accuses the men he snaps of keeping the sauna in business.
Many panicking victims have immediately surrendered money, fearing their visit would ruin them if exposed online.
Police said that none of the victims had reported the blackmail trap, and appealed for anyone who fell prey to contact them.
But outraged sauna bosses targeted by the 40-something fear he may have been deliberately hired by a rival sauna boss seeking to harm them by scaring away their clientele.
A sauna industry insider said: “This guy has been outside saunas with a camera, taking pictures of men as they leave. They are told the photos are going on a Facebook site if they don’t give them money.
“This scammer was followed to a pub where he was seen drinking with a man with links to a particular sauna. It may be that this sauna is trying to take out the opposition by frightening away their customers.”
A sauna owner said that customers visiting his business had been targeted “four or five times”, but fears the total may be far higher. He said: “We don’t know the numbers because most customers would probably not say anything.
“We’ve been telling customers to leave only after we check it’s clear, but he’s clever and hides round the corner or behind cars.”
The sauna boss said it is not known if the photographer agrees to delete the snaps in exchange for money.
He added: “It’s typically been older and smaller men who have been picked on. He’s not gone after 6ft guys who might fight back.”
Another sauna insider said: “The man involved is known to have connections with an Edinburgh sauna. Several saunas have been targeted by this man, but that sauna has not.”
He described the suspect as being in his 40s, stocky, dark haired, of average height, and usually “wearing gold chains”.
The Evening News understands sauna bosses are loathe to report the blackmail following the industry’s recent run-in with police which saw establishments in the city raided.
The sex blackmail plot is not the first to hit the Capital. One former Lothian and Borders officer said: “It’s actually quite a well-known scam. It dates back 30 years to when the saunas were first opened.
“When you have a sex industry then extortion goes with it like peaches and cream. Sometimes the blackmailers were in league with another sauna, sometimes they were privateers. Before it would be hard to publicise such photos, but now there’s the threat of posting them online.”
A police spokeswoman said: “We have not received reports of any incidents but we would urge anyone with information to come forward.”