FBI Springfield Warns of Sextortion Schemes Targeting Children
As the country marks April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the FBI Springfield Field Office is warning parents and caregivers about incidents involving sextortion of minors.
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. The perpetrator (posing as a minor) uses deception and manipulation to convince other minors, usually 14 to 17 years old, to engage in explicit activity over video, which is then secretly recorded by the perpetrator. The perpetrator then reveals they made the recordings and attempts to extort the victim for money to prevent them from being posted online.
Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a minor by an adult to produce what is considered Child Sexual Abuse Material 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 duped 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 is dedicated to the investigation and prevention of the victimization of children,” says FBI Springfield Field Office Special Agent in Charge David Nanz. “The first line of defense against sextortion is parents, educators, and caregivers having important discussions about online safety. Because these crimes can cause immeasurable harm to victims, it’s important to take measures to ensure they never happen. However, the reality is—they do—and when it happens, the FBI strongly encourages anyone with information to notify us immediately so we can use every available resource to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and prevent further abuse.”
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 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 the victim of sextortion:
- Contact FBI Springfield (217-522-9675), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-THE-LOST or Cybertipline).
- 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 online.