Sextortion, a cyber crime that involves predators using the internet to manipulate teens into sharing sexual photos and then threatening to expose the images if they don’t get money, is on the rise in Oregon, as reported by the FBI. The scammers often disguise themselves as peers and use social media, chat rooms, and gaming apps to build rapport with their victims, primarily males between the ages of 14 to 17.
According to Christina Bauman, an FBI victim specialist, the offenders are usually located outside the United States, primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast, or Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security received over 13,000 reports of financial child sextortion between October 2021 and March 2023, with 12,600 victims identified and at least 20 resulting suicides.
Supervisory Special Agent Travis Ostrem stressed the importance of educating the community about sextortion, stating, “It is so important for us to get out to every household, every parent, every child, every educator, and caregiver needs to know what sextortion is. If we can educate the community, we can stop this from happening.”
Predators typically pretend to be a friend or romantic interest, send an image, and then ask for one in return. After receiving a photo in return, the predator will find personal information to blackmail the child by demanding a large sum of money, such as $500, or threaten to share the images online. “They’ll bleed the children dry of everything,” Ostrem said, noting that they will ask for everything from credit cards to gift cards to different pay apps – anyway to get money.
Due to shame and stigma, the FBI says sextortion cases are widely underreported, and they suggest speaking with kids about online safety and watching out for signs such as withdrawing or spending large amounts of money. Victims are not at fault, according to Bauman, who emphasized that it is the perpetrators who are responsible for the crime.
Sextortion victims can seek help by contacting their local FBI field office, calling 1-800-CALL-FBI, or reporting their situation online. Education and awareness are key to combatting this growing trend in cybercrime, and it is imperative for parents, educators, and caregivers to be informed about the warning signs and preventative measures to protect the youth from falling victim to sextortion.