The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) released a national public safety alert on Monday regarding an increase in “financial sextortion schemes” targeting children and teenagers.
The FBI, along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Homeland Security Investigations, put out the alert, noting that there has been an “explosion in incidents of children and teens being 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.
The agency announced that law enforcement has garnered more than 7,000 reports connected to such “online financial sextortion” of young people. The reports have ended in at least 3,000 people being victimized, the majority of which are male. They have also led to over 12 suicides. Many of the crimes start in West African nations like Nigeria and Ivory Coast rather than inside the United States.
The agency urged parents and guardians to communicate with their children about these types of crimes so they can keep them from happening at all. These types of schemes happen in online settings “where young people feel most comfortable,” the agency noted. Perpetrators use the internet to create false female accounts and go after young men between the ages of 14 and 17. However, the agency has also spoken with victims who were only ten years of age.
By lying, the predators persuade the minor to give them an explicit image or video and then blackmail the victim, saying they will put out the picture or video if they are not paid. However, the videos or pictures are often published even if fees are sent.
“This is a level of harassment we haven’t seen recently in regards to our children,” an anonymous FBI official told The Washington Post. A Justice Department official also told the outlet that these are not the same as other child exploitation offenses, which are driven more by sex than money.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported it has observed “a dramatic increase in sextortion cases being reported to our CyberTipline, especially financial sextortion where the offender demands money from the child.” It added that teenage males have been targeted most frequently in these newer instances.
“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. 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,” Wray added.