RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) — The FBI is warning parents about a crime that’s growing as fast as social media. It’s called Sextortion. Predators meet people online, coerce them into sending sexually explicit pictures or videos, and then use those images as blackmail.

The FBI defines it as a criminal act that occurs when someone demands something of value, typically images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money, from a person by either:

  • Threatening to release or distribute material the victim seeks to keep private. This material often includes sexually explicit images, videos, e-mail, and text messages
  • Threatening to financially harm friends or relatives of the victim by using information obtained from the victim’s computer unless they comply with demands
  • Withholding something the victim needs or wants unless they comply with demands. This is usually perpetrated by someone in a position of power or authority, such as a government official, educator, or employer

By the numbers

76% of incidents involve female children and 11% involved male children, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The organization says the average age at the time of the incident was approximately 15 years old.

In 26% of the reports, it was suspected or known by the reporter that multiple children were targeted by the same offender.

It’s happening all over the country, including right here in North Carolina

“He was older than me, he took advantage of me, he made me do things I never thought I’d do,” the victim told WNCN.

“I knew what was doing wasn’t OK but at the same time, the way he made it seem to me, I thought it was OK because I guess I thought I was in a relationship with him,” she said.

She was just 13 years old at the time when a friend gave her phone number to then 27-year-old Jorge Juan Perez from Houston Texas.

“He could have done anything he wanted to do because he had my life in the [palm] of his hands,” the victim said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack prosecuted Perez and has seen plenty of Sextortion cases.

“It’s not just ‘I’m sending it out there to embarrass you or to tarnish your reputation.’ It’s ‘if you don’t do ‘x’, whatever ‘x’ may be,  I’m going to post pictures where your boss may see them, your colleagues may see them, I’m going to send them to your mother to your church,’” explained Zack.

Zack says predators like Perez coerce children into doing things they’d never do in person.

“He was charming at first, like complimenting me and stuff like that and he was very flirtatious. I was just was under the impression that he really loved me and cared about me,” the victim explained.

For Perez it was just a game and eventually he convinced the 13-year-old to send pictures she would come to regret. That’s when the charm wore off.

“He got like more aggressive saying like you better send me these pictures, you have to send them to me, and he was making me feel like he controlled me,” the victim said.

“There was no doubt that he had a sexual interest in children and he was looking to pursue that,” said Zack.

“He would tell me to touch myself and send photos to him and stuff like that I always told him no I wasn’t uncomfortable with that,” the victim said. “He would say ‘send me some more pictures or I’m going to post it and I’m going to call your mother and let her know’ and I’m like no I don’t want to send you anything. He kept threatening me over and over again and then I knew that he was willing to come to North Carolina to find me,” she added.

For some it can go on for years but luckily the victim’s mom happened to catch a text message, and went to the police. After undercover investigation by the local police and the FBI, Perez was arrested in Texas. It turns out he had multiple victims and was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison.

The victim says she can only talk about it now, to try and warn others from falling victim.

Her message to other young girls who get approached my men online or on the phone: “I would tell them definitely block them and don’t give them the time of day because, it’s not the right thing to do,” she said.

Protecting your children

So what are the signs of Sextortion?

“[Predators} look for the children that are missing something, typically a lonely child a child that’s having trouble in school, or having boyfriend trouble or something the child wants to talk about but wouldn’t necessarily go to their parents,” said Zack.Here are tips from the FBI:For Parents :

Supervise children’s computer or mobile device usage. Devices like smartphones are more difficult to manage due to their mobility and technical capabilities. As teenagers’ brains are not yet fully developed, they often struggle with anticipating consequences or impulse control.  It’s important to discuss with your children appropriate uses for devices when they are given access to them. This includes communicating with others online and sending photos. Parents may want to maintain their child’s online account access information with the child’s understanding that the parent can log in at any time.

Communicate with your children.

Have age-appropriate discussions with your child about the dangers associated with communicating with unknown people online, sending photos, or engaging in other risky behavior online.  In an effort to protect children from online predators, it’s important to educate them about Sextortion and the motivations of those who extort children.  Let your children know they can come to you without fear of reprisal, and that you have a genuine interest in their safety and online activities. Those exploited through these crimes are victims, no matter what they did or how they responded to the threat.

Layer security.

Employ basic technology security measures. Use strong passwords and update software regularly.  Never open attachments to e-mails unless you are certain of the sender. Use a firewall, anti-malware software, and consider use of encryption for your hard drive. Keep in mind that some malware attacks are targeted; meaning criminals may customize their tools so that more simplistic anti-malware programs do not detect them and victims are more apt to take the bait. Do not assume technology alone will protect you; you must also do your part to protect yourself.For Children:

  • Turn off your computer when you are not using it.
  • Cover webcams with a removable sticker or tape when you are not using them.
  • Don’t open attachments when you’re not confident of the sender.
  • Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
  • If someone you know is being victimized through Sextortion, report it to your parents and encourage the victim to talk to their parents and report it to the FBI.
  • ·If you are receiving Sextortion threats, don’t be afraid to talk to your parents or to call the FBI.

The FBI reminds parents it’s important to report all instances to law enforcement. While in some cases the person committing Sextortion is also a teenager, it is more likely that the perpetrator is an adult masquerading as a teenager. Law enforcement can make that determination and take steps to help minimize further distribution of sensitive material.  A parent’s report may result in the rescue of dozens or even hundreds of other children. Examples of Sextortion Cases

·         In November, 2014, Lucas Michael Chansler, 30, of Jacksonville, Florida, was sentenced to 105 years in prison for producing child pornography.  During a four-year period, Chansler is believed to have sexually extorted approximately 350 victims in 26 states, three Canadian provinces, and the United Kingdom.

·         In March, 2014, Jared James Abrahams, a computer science student, was sentenced to serve 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to three counts of extortion and one count of unauthorized access of a computer. Abrahams targeted dozens of victims around the globe, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.  Abrahams used malicious software to disguise his identity in order to capture nude photos or videos of female victims through remote operation of their webcams without their consent.

·         Between 2005 and 2009, Ivory Dickerson and Patrick Connolly victimized more than 3,800 children through Sextortion. Using malware, Dickerson and Connolly were able to assume control of the victims’ computers and then demanded the victims send sexually explicit images of themselves.  Dickerson was sentenced to 110 years in prison while Connolly was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

·         In 2013, Christopher Patrick Gunn, 31, of Montgomery, Alabama, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for producing child pornography through a massive online Sextortion scheme. Over a period of more than two years, Gunn repeatedly used computers, chat rooms and other social media outlets to threaten hundreds of young girls, ages 9 to 16, located throughout the United States and internationally.

·         In February, 2010, Anthony Stancl, 19, of Wisconsin received 15 years in prison after he posed as a girl on Facebook and persuaded at least 31 boys to send him naked pictures of themselves. He then used the pictures – and the threat of releasing them to the rest of the high school – to blackmail at least seven boys, ages 15 to 17, into performing sex acts.

·         In 2008, Jonathan Vance, 24, of Auburn, Alabama was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he admitted sending threatening e-mails on Facebook and MySpace extorting nude photos from more than 50 young women in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Vance plead guilty to thirty-four criminal counts involving interstate extortion, interstate transportation in aid of extortion, fraud in connection with identification information and authentication features, attempted production of child pornography, and attempted enticement.

You can find more resources from the FBI here: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015/july/sextortion/sextortion

More from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by clicking here