The FBI in San Diego is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in "sextortion" incidents involving young children.
According to the FBI, the agency has received more reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos, and then extorting money from them. Sextortion is a crime, and involves an adult contacting a minor over online platforms such as an app, game or social media account.
According to the FBI, a predator will use deception and manipulation tactics to convince a young male, most between 14 to 17, "to engage in explicit activity over video, which is then secretly recorded by the predator."
"The predator then reveals that they have made the recordings and attempts to extort the victim for money to prevent them from being posted online," FBI officials said in a statement.
Guidance For Parents
“It’s hard to know sometimes who is on the other end of the computer or the phone. That’s what makes this such a difficult crime,” FBI Special Agent Bill McNamara told NBC 7. “They think they’re talking to a young, age-appropriate girl who may ask for them to make an inappropriate or explicit video or take an explicit photo. They do it and send it and then the sextortion happens immediately ... This can happen very quickly, maybe in a couple hours certainly in the same day.”
The San Diego FBI office has seen an increase in complaints involving boys who were reported sextortion victims, mostly for money, a spokesman said, adding other victims were extorted for additional images.
An adult coercing a child to produce child sexual abuse material carries penalties that can include life in prison.
Jessica Heldman of the Child’s Rights Attorney at USD’s School of Law Child Advocacy Institute said, “these bad actors take advantage of the fact that children do not have a fully developed brain.” Heldman added, “what they are driven by is emotion. So, when they get attention, they get compliments, they get drawn in and that can really set them up for a really bad situation.”
"To prevent continued victimization, it is imperative children come forward to someone -- a parent, teacher, caregiver or law enforcement," according to the FBI. "Children may feel a sense of embarrassment from such a traumatic experience."
Stacey Moy, FBI special agent in charge, said children "must be mindful of who they are communicating with online, regardless of the game or social media platform."
"Education and awareness are key to combating this evolving threat and we want families to take part in these important discussions regarding online safety," Moy said. "Reporting these incidents to law enforcement will help to prevent it from happening to someone else."
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Last year, the FBI received more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints of all types -- not just the latest scheme involving children -- with losses totaling more than $13.6 million.
To guard against sextortion crimes, the FBI advises that people:
- Be selective about what they share online, especially personal information and passwords, as open accounts may allow a predator to figure out a lot of information about parents and their children;
- Be wary of anyone they encounter for the first time online, and block or ignore messages from strangers;
- Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online, and videos and photos are not adequate verification;
- Be suspicious if someone on a game or app wants to talk on a different platform; and
- Encourage their children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
People who believe they or someone they know is a sextortion victim should:
- Contact their local FBI field office at www.fbi.gov, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or Cybertipline.org;
- Do not delete anything before authorities review it; and
- Tell law enforcement everything about online encounters, even if the details are embarrassing, as it will help locate the offender.