FBI warns of sextortion schemes targeting teens via social media sites and apps

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – The FBI Field Office in Pittsburgh is warning parents and caregivers to be on their guard against an increase in incidents of sextortion schemes targeting teens.

The FBI says it has received a growing number of reports claiming that adults are posing as “age-appropriate women” and coercing young boys through social media to share sexual images and videos and then coercing them. extort money.

According to the FBI, sextortion typically begins when an adult contacts a minor on “any online platform,” such as games, apps, or social media, to meet and chat.

In this particular wave of scams, federal investigators found that the predator posed as a young girl, tricked and manipulated the victim, usually a young male between the ages of 14 and 17, into engaging in “explicit activity.” by video. The scammer then secretly records this video and threatens to post it online unless the victim pays him a certain amount.

The FBI says the crime of an adult coercing a child into producing child sexual abuse material also carries stiff penalties, up to a life sentence for the offender.

“It’s not the traditional child predators who are just looking for more explicit images. They’re looking for money,” says Mike Nordwall, FBI Special Agent in Charge in Pittsburgh. “We want parents and caregivers to talk with their children about programs like this. Education is key to stopping these individuals and sparing our children the shame, fear and confusion they feel when caught in this cycle. We want kids to know that if someone they met on social media starts asking for videos and photos and possibly money, that person should be reported.

Children victimized by predators often feel embarrassed, which prevents them from coming forward. However, officers say being willing to come forward and report the incident can help law enforcement identify predators and prevent the offender from committing further sexual exploitation crimes against the community. 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 about you or your children if your social media accounts are open to everyone.
  • Beware of people you meet for the first time online. Block or ignore messages sent by strangers.
  • Be aware that videos and photos are NOT proof that a person is who they say they are. 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 another platform, beware.
  • Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

If you suspect you or someone you know is being sextorted, the FBI recommends following these steps:

  • Contact your local FBI office, FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org. To find contact information for your local FBI office, go to www.fbi.gov.
  • Don’t delete anything before law enforcement can see it.
  • Tell law enforcement all about the encounters you have had online; they say it can be embarrassing, but the information is needed to find the culprit.

The FBI says its Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints in 2021, in which victims lost more than $13.6 million combined.