The FBI is sounding the alarm on sextortion, the shakedown of people who have been threatened to have information about their sexual activity revealed.
In 2021, there were 700 cases reported to the FBI across the country. That number jumped to 4,000 in 2022, a 463% increase.
Chicago saw an even bigger spike.
The FBI says the targets tend to be young men and boys, typically between 10 and 17 years old.
Special agent Siobhan Johnson with the FBI’s office in Chicago joined WGN Evening News to talk about their findings and offer tips on prevention.
- Traditional sextortion typically targets young women and girls for the purposes of obtaining sexual content. The current jump in sextortion reports is related to a new version: financial sextortion.
- Targets of financial sextortion tend to be young men and boys. Typically, victims are aged 10 to 17, but victims can be any age (and have been noted as young as 7). Rather than sexual gratification, motivation appears to be largely financial.
- In a financial sextortion, a stranger reaches out to a victim online via game or app. They often impersonate attractive women or pretend to be of the same age as the victim. The stranger may attempt to move the victim off of the original platform onto another communication app before asking for nude or compromising photos or videos. Once a victim has sent a photo or video, the stranger will then demand that the victim pay and threaten to release the photos/videos.
- Financial sextortion can cause severe emotional distress and can lead to depression or suicide in children.
- Compared to traditional sextortion, perpetrators of financial sextortion tend to be located internationally (often in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and the Philippines).
If a child is targeted, the FBI suggests that parents do the following:
- Tell them they are not in trouble, they are not alone, and there is life after pictures.
- Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.
- 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 more helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.
- Ask for help from a trusted adult or law enforcement before sending money or more images. Cooperating rarely stops the blackmail and harassment, but law enforcement can.
- Call 1-800-CALL-FBI or visit tips.fbi.gov to report it.