By Allan Lengel
The FBI and other agencies have issued an alert to be on guard against an explosion of incidents of children and teens being coerced into sending sexually explicit images online and being extorted for money.
Known as “financial sextortion,” law enforcement authorities say they’ve received more than 7,000 reports of online incidents involving minors in the past year, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, and more than a dozen suicides.
The practice involves predators convincing youths to produce an explicit video or photo.
After the images are sent, predators threaten to release the material unless the victim sends money or gift cards. Sometimes the images are released even if payments are made, the FBI said.
“The shame, fear, and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse,” the FBI said in a press release.
The lion’s share of these schemes originate in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast, the FBI said.
“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,” says FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement. “The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does. Victims may feel like there is no way out—it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone.”
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division adds:
“The protection of children is a society’s most sacred duty. It calls on each of us to do everything we can to keep kids from harm, including ensuring the threats they face are brought into the light and confronted. 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.”