FBI, Other Federal Agencies Issue Public Safety Alert About Sextortion
The FBI, in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, on Tuesday issued a national public safety alert about the sharp increase in financial sextortion.
Financial sextortion occurs when children and teens are coerced into sending explicit images online and extorted for money.
“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 prepared statement.
“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," Wray said. "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.”
Financial sextortion schemes occur in online environments where young people feel most comfortable — using common social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat applications. Online predators often use fake female accounts and target minor males, between 14 and 17 years old. The FBI has interviewed victims as young as 10.
Predators convince the young person to produce an explicit video or photo. Once they acquire the images, they threaten to release the compromising material unless the victim sends money or gift cards. Often the predators demand payment through a variety of peer-to-peer payment applications.
However, predators often release the images even if payments are made.
The shame, fear, and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse.
Law enforcement agencies have received more than 7,000 reports related to financial sextortion of minors, with at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, and more than a dozen suicides.
Most of these schemes originate outside the United States, and primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
The FBI and its partners implore parents and caregivers to engage with their kids about financial sextortion schemes to prevent them in the first place.
Steve K. Francis of Homeland Security Investigations said his office's special agents will do all they can to identify, locate, and apprehend predators to ensure they face justice. “Criminals who lurk in platforms on the internet are not as anonymous as they think."
Michelle DeLaune, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said sextortion has devastated children and families.
"The best defense against this crime is to talk to your children about what to do if they're targeted online," DeLaune said.
What if you or your child is a victim?
If young people are being exploited, they are victims of a crime and should report it. Contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has outlined steps parents and young people can take if they or their child are a victim:
- Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.
- Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail and continued harassment.
- REPORT the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.
- BLOCK the predator and DO NOT DELETE the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.
- Let NCMEC help get explicit images of you off the internet.
- Visit org/IsYourExplicitContentOutThere to learn how to notify companies yourself or visit cybertipline.org to report to us for help with the process.
- Ask for help. This can be a very complex problem and may require help from adults or law enforcement.
- If you don’t feel that you have adults in your corner, you can reach out to NCMEC for support at firstname.lastname@example.org or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.
- Take a moment to learn how sextortion works and how to talk to your children about it. Information, resources, and conversation guides are available at fbi.gov/StopSextortion.