INDIANAPOLIS — Thousands of young boys across the country were extorted by sexual predators online over the last year, causing some children to take their own lives.
On Monday, the FBI patterned with Homeland Security Investigations and the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children to sound the alarm over the sexual extortion of the nation’s youth online.
Over the past year, the FBI says law enforcement received more than 7,000 reports of children and teens being coerced into sending explicit images online and extorted for money. This crime is known as financial sextortion.
The reports led to police discovering at least 3,000 victims, primarily 14-17-year-old boys. However, the FBI said investigators interviewed victims as young as 10. Of the victims, investigators are aware of more than a dozen children who ended up taking their own lives.
“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
The FBI says financial sextortion schemes often occur in environments where young people feel most comfortable. They use common social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat applications that feel familiar and safe.
The schemers, largely originating from outside the United States, often use fake female accounts to target young boys. The FBI says the predators convince their target to produce an explicit video or photo. Once they have it, they threaten to release the compromising material unless the boy sends money or gift cards.
Even if the victim sends the money, the FBI says the predators often release the photos anyway. The shame, fear, and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevent them from asking for help or reporting the abuse.
“This is a growing crisis and we’ve seen sextortion completely devastate children and families. As the leading nonprofit focused on child protection, we’ve seen first-hand the rise in these cases worldwide. The best defense against this crime is to talk to your children about what to do if they’re targeted online. We want everyone to know help is out there and they’re not alone.”Michelle DeLaune, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
As many children enter winter break, the FBI is imploring parents and caregivers to talk with their kids about financial sextortion schemes to prevent them from happening in the first place.
“Armed with the information in this alert message, parents, caregivers, and children themselves should feel empowered to detect fake identities, take steps to reject any attempt to obtain private material, and if targeted, have a plan to seek help from a trusted adult.”Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division
If you or your child fall victim to financial sextortion, they should report it to their local FBI field office by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children outlined steps parents and young people can take if they or their child are a victim of sextortion, including:
- Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.
- Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail and continued harassment.
- REPORT the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.
- BLOCK the predator and DO NOT DELETE the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.
- Let NCMEC help get explicit images of you off the internet.
- Visit MissingKids.org/IsYourExplicitContentOutThere to learn how to notify companies yourself or visit cybertipline.org to report to us for help with the process.
- Ask for help. This can be a very complex problem and may require help from adults or law enforcement.
- If you don’t feel that you have adults in your corner, you can reach out to NCMEC for support at firstname.lastname@example.org or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.
Additional information, resources, and conversation guides are available on the FBI website.