FBI Issues Warning About the Increase of Financial Sextortion Schemes Targeting Minors
LOS ANGELES—The FBI has seen a significant increase in financially motivated sextortion schemes online. Victims are typically males between the ages of 14 to 17, but any child can become a victim. Offenders are usually located outside the United States.
Due to this disturbing trend, the FBI is warning individuals who have a child in their life about the dangers of online activity that may lead to the solicitation and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual acts. Children who access the Internet via online gaming, gaming consoles, live streaming or video platforms, instant message apps, and social media are vulnerable to online predators. These offenders use different tactics to lure children to engage in inappropriate behavior.
“Several young people have taken their own life based on the feelings of fear and shame that result from sextortion and subsequent financial targeting,” said Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Whether you’re a parent, guardian, educator, coach, or have some role in the life of a young person, please talk to them about this crime and how to avoid becoming a victim.”
Offenders often use a “catfishing” tactic by impersonating a child of a similar age in order to gain a victim’s trust. For example, a boy thinks he’s chatting with a female and the perpetrator sends a nude photo or video of the female being impersonated to add legitimacy to the relationship. Predators sometimes hack legitimate accounts known to victims or create “copycat” accounts to make it appear as though the child knows them.
Offenders may ask the child to switch to a second platform capable of video calling and/or chatting. Offenders ask children to send sexually explicit images and videos and/or engage in sexually explicit activities via video call, then capture that material without the victims’ knowledge. If a child does not comply with producing sexually explicit imagery, offenders sometimes edit and create sexually explicit images of the child. Offenders also sometimes hack a child’s social media account to get sexually explicit material stored in the child’s account.
Offenders running financially motivated sextortion schemes threaten to release the compromising material unless the victim sends money, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or other payments. In some instances, offenders send the sexually explicit images or videos to family members or friends—even if the victims pay. Offenders have even extorted family members of victims who have committed suicide.
Children who pay create an incentive for continued extortion. In addition, offenders sometimes create images to elicit a response from the child. Some examples include the following: fake news headlines about the arrest of the child; a collage containing sexually explicit material and identifying information; a draft of a social media post that would distribute the sexually explicit material. Offenders sometimes distribute the images even if the child pays.
Victims often feel alone, embarrassed, and too afraid to seek help. Sextortion can lead victims to self-harm or suicide. There have been an alarming number of suicides identified in male victims of financially motivated sextortion schemes. It’s important for victims to understand they are not alone. Children should understand that any image or video—sexually explicit or otherwise—is completely out of their control as soon as it is transmitted.
Please review the tips below and share them with the children in your life:
- Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords (predators will visit open social media accounts to learn details about their victims).
- Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- Be aware that people can pretend to be anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone while playing a video game or through another online forum and they suggest changing to a different application or method through which to communicate.
- Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:
- Contact your local FBI field office (visit fbi.gov for contact information)
- Report to:
- The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov)
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-THE-LOST or Cybertipline.org)
- Do not delete communications before law enforcement is able to review them.
- Share details with law enforcement, regardless of how embarrassing that may be. This will be crucial for potential prosecution and to prevent additional victims.
More information about sextortion can be found at: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/stop-sextortion-youth-face-risk-online-090319.