The FBI is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving sextortion of young children. The FBI’s Detroit Field Office is receiving reports of adults posing as young girls and coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos. Once those images or videos are sent, the victim is threatened with exposure unless they pay the perpetrator.
Sextortion begins when an adult contacts a minor over any online platform used to meet and communicate, such as a game, app, or social media account. In a scheme that is becoming more prevalent, the predator (posing as a young girl) uses deception and manipulation to convince a young male, usually 13 to 17 years old, to engage in explicit activity over video, which is then secretly recorded by the predator. The predator then reveals they made recordings and attempts to extort the victim for money to prevent them from being posted online.
And while sextortion schemes typically target young boys, adult males have been victimized as well.
Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) carries heavy penalties, which can include up to life sentences for the offender. To make the victimization stop, children typically have to come forward to someone—normally a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement. The embarrassment children feel from the activity they were forced to engage in is what typically prevents them from coming forward. Sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims around the world, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify the offender may disrupt ongoing victimization.
“The most effective way to stop these criminals is by preventing young people from becoming victims. We can do that through awareness, education, and having important—and sometimes difficult—conversations with the young people in our lives,” said Special Agent James A. Tarasca of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office. “We recognize victims may be hesitant to come forward and report these incidents. If you are a victim and don’t feel comfortable reporting directly to law enforcement, we encourage you to reach out to a trusted adult, who can help you. Your brave decision to come forward can not only help us identify the criminal but could also prevent another young person from being victimized”.
The FBI provides the following tips to protect you and your children online:
- Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
- Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- Be aware people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of sextortion:
- Call the FBI’s Detroit Field Office at 313-965-2323 or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov. You can also file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-THE-LOST or cybertipline.org).
- Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
- Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.
In 2021, the IC3 received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, with losses over $13.6 million. The number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just this particular scheme.
More information about sextortion can be found at https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/stop-sextortion-youth-face-risk-online-090319.