Did you know the FBI—in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children—recently issued a national public safety alert regarding sextortion schemes?
Wait, do you even know what “sextortion” is?
Since child safety is my passion, I’m currently obsessed with the sextortion crisis. As such, I’ve been telling my friends about it, especially those who are parents, grandparents, and caregivers. Since very few people know the term, here you go:
In the U.S. today, there is an alarming rise in the number of incidents of sextortion involving kids: situations where children and teens are coerced into sending sexually explicit images online. Once they do, the minors are aggressively pressured for additional explicit materials (ie. photos or videos) and/or money.
Just how big is the problem?
As a matter of fact, a recent justice.gov press release reports,
Over the past year, law enforcement agencies have received over 7,000 reports related to the online sextortion of minors, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys.
What does the sextortion process look like?
- Sextortion tends to happen in online environments where young people feel most comfortable—using common social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat applications.
- On these platforms, predators often use fake accounts and target minors.
- Through deception—perhaps a statement like, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”—sextortion criminals convince the young person to provide an explicit video or photo.
- Once predators acquire the images, they often threaten to release the compromising material unless the victim sends additional sexually explicit material, money, gift cards, etc..
- Shame, fear, and confusion often keep kids from reaching out for help. Young people often panic, unable to see a way out of the situation.
Tragically, more than a dozen sextortion victims have died by suicide.
What should I do if it happens to my kid (or me)?
If an individual is being exploited in this way, they are victims of a crime and should report it.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has outlined steps young people and their parents can take if they or their child are a victim of sextortion, including:
- Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.
- Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator. Cooperating or paying does not always stop the blackmail and harassment.
- REPORT the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.
- BLOCK the predator but DO NOT DELETE the profile or messages because those things can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping the offender.
- Let NCMEC help get explicit images of you off the internet.
- Ask for help. This can be a very complex problem and may require help from adults or law enforcement.
- If you don’t feel that you have adults in your corner, you can reach out to NCMEC for support at missingkids.org, or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.
How can we prevent sextortion?
Authorities are imploring parents and caregivers to engage with their kids about sextortion schemes so kids can avoid them in the first place.
Lately, I’ve been hearing about the importance of intentional conversations between kids and the adults who love them. About topics like this. It’s what I did. As soon as I listened to the podcast episode I mentioned above, I texted our son who’s in college. He already knew about the sextortion situation because his university emailed the student body to warn them.
In their communication, the university included this statement:
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in “sextortion” cases,
“Most victims report the initial contact with the fraudster is mutual and made using dating websites and apps. Soon after the encounter, the fraudster requests the interaction be moved from the website or app to another messaging platform. The fraudster instigates the exchange of sexually explicit material and then encourages the victim to participate via video chat or send their own explicit photos. Immediately after the victim complies, the fraudster blackmails the victim and demands money to prevent the release of the photos or videos on social media. The fraudster often gains access to the victim’s social media or contact information and threatens to send the images to the victim’s family and friends.”
The university email also gave several safety suggestions.
Tips on how to protect yourself:
- NEVER send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
- Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Links can secretly hack your electronic devices using malware to gain access to your private data, photos, and contacts, or control your web camera and microphone without your knowledge.
- Turn off your electronic devices and web cameras when not in use.
These are common sense suggestions that you may have been telling your kids for years. However, coming from a university, they may bear more weight.
The email from the university also provided counsel on what to do if an individual finds themselves already entangled in a scam.
If you are receiving sextortion threats:
- Remember you are not alone as thousands are victimized by this scam.
- Stop all interaction with the extortionist and do not be embarrassed or afraid to contact law enforcement.
- File a complaint with the FBI IC3 at www.ic3.gov.
So there you have it, friend: What sextortion is, how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens to you. For more details, please click on the embedded links.
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