The FBI is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving sextortion of young children. The FBI is receiving an increasing number of 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 begins when an adult contacts a minor over any online platform used to meet and communicate, such as a game, app, or social media account. In a scheme that has recently become more prevalent, the predator (posing as a young girl) uses deception and manipulation to convince a young male, usually 14 to 17 years old, 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.
Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) carries heavy penalties, which can include up to life sentences for the offender. To make the victimization stop, children typically must come forward to someone—normally a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement. The embarrassment children feel from the activity they were forced to engage in is what typically prevents them from coming forward. Sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims around the world, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify the offender may prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation to that victim and others.
The most effective way to disrupt these criminals is through awareness, education, and having serious discussions with your children about their online safety. We recognize victims may feel embarrassed and thus hesitant to come forward and report these incidents, but the FBI strongly encourages victims to notify law enforcement so that these individuals are held accountable and are prevented from harming other children. “While we understand victims may feel embarrassed, it is important for them to not just tell someone but to talk to, and cooperate with, investigators. We’ve noticed that some children who have reported being victims of sextortion are apprehensive to work with us or are unresponsive when we reach out,” says Supervisory Special Agent Jeanette Milazzo who heads the FBI Houston’s Crimes Against Children Task Force. They of course want to put this behind them, but because these individuals are likely victimizing other kids, their cooperation is key.
The FBI provides the following tips to protect you and your children online:
- Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
- Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:
- Contact your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org).
- Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
- Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.
In 2021, the IC3 received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, with losses over $13.6 million. This number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just this scheme.
More information about sextortion, including graphics and a video PSA, can be found at https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/stop-sextortion-youth-face-risk-online-090319.