Feds Warn of Increase in ‘Sextortion’ Schemes Targeting Teenagers, Young Boys

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Federal authorities are warning that “sextortion” schemes targeting teenagers and boys are on the rise in the United States.

Over the past year, more than 3,000 victims, primarily boys, have been targeted online in financial sextortion schemes, with over a dozen suicides reported among those victims, according to authorities.

In total, there have been over 7,000 sextortion cases reported to law enforcement agencies across the nation. A majority of these schemes originate from primarily West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

The warning was issued in a joint press release Monday from the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

“The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys – and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

As children and teenagers spend more time at home and online during the Christmas season, they are more vulnerable to adult predators pretending to be a romantic interest in order to receive sexually explicit images.

However, once these images are obtained, the predators will threaten to release them online unless the victim sends more sexually explicit images or pays a ransom, authorities warn. Sometimes, the images are released regardless of the predator’s demands.

According to the NCMEC, around 79 percent of predators demand money or gift cards instead of sexual images.

The FBI says that most victims are between the ages of 14 and 17 but noted they had interviewed victims as young as ten. Predators typically engage in sextortion where young people feel “familiar and safe,” such as common social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat applications.

“This is a growing crisis and we’ve seen sextortion completely devastate children and families,” said Michelle DeLaune, CEO of the NCMED.

Both DeLaune and Wray urged parents to be aware of what sextortion is to prevent future crimes while also talking to their children about what to do if they become a victim.

The FBI urges victims to either contact their local field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov. The NMEC also outlined steps in the press release for parents to take if their child is a victim of sexual extortion.

You can follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.


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