FBI cracks down on sextortion

Published: Apr. 17, 2022 at 10:42 PM PDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(KPTV) - The FBI is sounding the alarm on increased efforts by cybercriminals targeting kids in what they call “sextortion.”

The FBI says it’s happening in alarming numbers, tens of thousands of cases around the country, and six cases here in Oregon in just the past couple months, with criminals most recently specifically targeting young boys.

According to the FBI, a “sextortion” case typically starts with an adult predator tricking a child, often a teen, into thinking they’re having an online conversation with someone their age.

“They’re able to feign a relationship with these kids” said Kieran Ramsey, special agent in charge of the FBI in Portland “And manipulate that conversation into a deeper, more private, more intimate realm.”

Then comes the “ask,” for a photo.

“Perhaps at first, it’s just a little flirtatious, but then it progresses. Progresses to nudity. Progresses to video, and really explicit video,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey said these criminals used to just ask for more photos or videos, threatening to share the material the victim already sent if they don’t comply, but recently that’s changed, with the predators now demanding money.

“And it’s disturbing as a parent, I’m a dad, but in law enforcement as well to know that these are criminals that are specifically targeting our children, our kids,” he said.

Ramsey said the criminals have recently shifted their approach, specifically targeting teenage boys.

Talking about worst case scenarios, Ramsey said “Sadly, we’ve seen cases across the country where the bad outcomes for kids include self-harm even to the point of suicide, because of that embarrassment.”

For parents, the FBI recommends having honest conversations with their kids about this threat. Parents should also know what social media apps and gaming platforms their kids use. They should go as far knowing the usernames and passwords for their kids’ profiles, and they should do regular spot checks on their kids’ conversations.

Many teenagers may see this as an invasion of privacy, but Ramsey recommends telling them that there are criminals out there looking to exploit them right now.

“Because this person says they’re my age and because they like the same things I do does not necessarily mean they are who they say they are,” he said. “If they took that extra step to know who they’re dealing with, perhaps we could eliminate this problem altogether.”

If you or your child believes they have been the target of a sextortion attempt, you can contact your local FBI field office for help. You can also use the FBI’s internet crime complaint center and file a complaint online.