Mother of Teen Sextortion Victim and FBI Warn of Trending Crime in New PSA
“I never thought this would happen to us,” said a mother in Montana, who asked not to be identified, in a public service announcement that urges other parents to be vigilant of their children’s activities online.
In a joint PSA with the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office, the woman, who is being referred to as “Michelle,” and Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Aaron Eisner warn parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving sextortion of young children, primarily boys, in Montana, Utah, and Idaho, and across the country. The Salt Lake City FBI receives dozens of reports every month.
“That is only the tip of the iceberg because many of these kinds of cases don’t go reported,” Eisner said.
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 has recently become more prevalent, the predator (posing as a young girl) uses deception and manipulation to convince a young male, usually 12 to 17 years old, to exchange sexually explicit photos or engage in explicit activity over video, which the predator then secretly records. The predator then attempts to extort the victim for money to prevent the video or photos from being posted online.
In “Michelle’s” case, her 13-year-old son met who he thought was a teenage girl on social media. He was enticed to send compromising photos of himself to her, and that’s when the scheme unfolded. The perpetrator demanded money from the teenager who then, like many young victims, considered self-harm. Fortunately, Michelle was able to get her son help and reported the crime to local law enforcement and the FBI.
“I think it’s terrifying that somebody can be the kind of human being that preys on people like that,” she said.
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 need to tell 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 prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation to that victim and others.
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 that 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 that person asks 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 the victim of sextortion:
- Contact your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov), 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. This 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.