Dec 19, 2022 - World

FBI warns of explosion of "sextortion" schemes targeting kids and teens

The Federal Bureau of Investigation seal in its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The FBI issued a public safety alert Monday about an "explosion" of financial "sextortion" schemes targeting children and teens.

Why it matters: The agency said it has received more than 7,000 reports of financial sextortion against minors over the past year and has recorded at least 3,000 victims of the crime — primarily boys. It also linked more than a dozen suicides to such schemes.

  • The agency released the alert in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
  • The "sextortion" schemes involve victims being coerced online into sending explicit images and then extorted for money or gift cards through threats to release the images.
  • Federal law enforcement said a large percentage of the schemes originate outside of the U.S., primarily in West African countries including Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

What they're saying: The FBI advised parents and caregivers to remain vigilant over the holidays and to talk to children about the schemes "so we can prevent them in the first place."

  • "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," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Monday.
  • "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," his statement continued.

The big picture: The schemes usually occur on social media platforms, gaming websites and video chat apps, with online predators typically targeting minor males between 14 to 17 years old by using fake female accounts.

  • The FBI said it has interviewed victims as young as 10 years old and that many of the images were released even if payments were made.
  • Victims, because of shame, guilt or fear, often do not seek help or report the abuse, per the alert.
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