FBI warns of increase in ‘sextortion’ schemes targeting teens

January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month
The FBI says with financially motivated sextortion, many past calls have originated in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire or the Philippines. Photo Credit: Lea / Adobe Stock

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the FBI says financially motivated sextortion — often targeting teen boys — went up 20% from October 2022 to March 2023 compared to the same period the year before.

Scammers will pose as an attractive girl on social media or gaming sites, ask the boy to send nude photos or videos, then threaten to post them online if the victim doesn’t pay up. FBI Special Agent Curtis Cox said the threats often cause extreme mental anguish.

“That fear of being exposed that way causes these kids to panic, sometimes they attempt to make the payments, which is a big mistake,” Cox explained. “It doesn’t solve the problem; it only exacerbates it. And unfortunately, oftentimes we see this anxiety lead to self-harm or thoughts of suicide.”

The FBI said between October 2021 and March 2023, the feds got more than 13,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors, involving more than 12,600 victims, which the agency said contributed to at least 20 suicides.

Cox asks parents to discuss sextortion with their kids — and show compassion if their child has fallen prey.

“These kids are victims to criminals who know exactly what to say and what to do to get what they want,” Cox continued. “If your kid does report this to you, don’t judge. Don’t be angry. Look at them as a victim and help them get the help and the resources that they need to get through this.”

Victims can report the crime at 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at tips.fbi.gov.