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FBI warns parents of growing threat of ‘sextortion’ of teens

Posted at 7:00 PM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-19 19:16:21-05

The FBI is warning parents to be on the lookout for a growing threat – the “sextortion” of minors.

The agency released a public service announcement recently saying that it’s seen an explosion of situations where scammers trick teenage boys into sending explicit images. Then the scammer blackmails the teens for money, threatening to release the videos or photos to the teen’s friends and family.

“They'll often prove they can do it by showing the child their social media platform with all their friends – look I know who your friends are,I know where you go to school, I can do this to you,” FBI supervisory special agent Jeremy Wright said. “And they often follow through with that threat.”

In at least 12 cases in the United States, teens died by suicide after falling victim to the scam, according to the FBI.

The scam can start with a friendly message over SnapChat, Instagram or TikTok, according to the FBI.

The scammers are often outside the U.S. and operate in large, organized groups with managers and recruiters, Wright said. It’s a business that’s brought in billions, he said.

“There's no sympathy,” Wright said. “It's all about the motive and the motive is money.”

In Kentucky, there were 70 reported cases of sextortion last year, according to the FBI. But the number of actual cases could be much higher, Wright said.

The most common victims of the scam are teen boys between 14 and 17 years of age, according to the FBI. The agency advises teens to never share explicit images with someone online.

“If it's not something you're willing to put on your social media platform or on Kroger Field’s big screen, don't put it online,” Wright said.

The FBI urges teens who learn they’ve sent explicit images of themselves to scammers to stop messaging and immediately report what happened to an adult they trust.

For more information on sextortion released by the FBI for both teens and parents, click here.