The FBI says they have received an increased number of reports claiming adults are posing as “age-appropriate females” and coercing young boys through social media to share sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them.
According to the FBI, sextortion usually begins with an adult contacting a minor over “any online platform,” such as games, apps, or social media, to meet and chat.
In this particular wave of scams, federal investigators have found the predator poses as a young girl, deceives and manipulates the victim, usually a young male between the ages of 14 and 17 years old, to engage in “explicit activity” via video. The scammer then secretly records that video and threatens to post it online unless the victim pays them a certain amount.
The FBI says the crime of an adult coercing a child to produce child sexual abuse material also carries heavy penalties, which can include up to a life sentence for the offender.
“These are not the traditional child predators that are just looking for more explicit images. They’re looking for money,” says FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “We want parents and caregivers to talk with their kids about schemes like this. Education is key to stopping these individuals and sparing our children the shame, fear and confusion they feel when they’re caught in this cycle. We want kids to know that if someone they’ve met on social media starts asking for videos and photos and eventually money, that person should be reported.”
Children who are victimized by predators often feel embarrassed, which prevents them from coming forward. However, agents say being willing to come forward and report the incident can help law enforcement identify predators and prevent the offender from committing more sexual exploitation crimes against the victim and other potential victims.
The FBI shared these tips that parents can use to help protect their children, as well as themselves, online:
- Be selective about what you share online, especially personal information and passwords. A predator could learn a lot of information about you or your children if your social media accounts are open to everyone.
- Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages sent from strangers.
- Know that videos and photos are NOT proof that a person is who they claim to be. People can pretend to be anyone or anything online.
- If you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform, be suspicious.
- Encourage your children to report any suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
If you think you or someone you know is a victim of sextortion, the FBI recommends following these steps:
- Contact your local FBI field office, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at at www.ic3.gov. or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org. To find the contact information for your local FBI Field office, visit www.fbi.gov.
- Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to view it.
- Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; they say it may be embarrassing, but the information is necessary to find the offender.
The FBI says its Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints in 2021, in which victims lost more than a combined $13.6 million.