With the holiday season on the horizon and many children set to spend more time at home browsing the internet, U.S. law enforcement on Monday issued a national public safety alert about what they describe as an “explosion” in cases of children and teens being extorted to send sexually explicit photos and videos online.
In just the past year, law enforcement received over 7,000 reports of online financial “sextortion” attempts, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, the alert says.
Through deception, predators convince a young person to produce an explicit video or photo, according to the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI is the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
Once predators acquire 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.
In many cases, however, predators release the images even if payments are made. The shame, fear and confusion victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse, according to law enforcement.
The FBI additionally reported a 1,000% increase in incidents of financial sextortion that were reported in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same timeframe in 2021.
The schemes are unique, according to officials, in that they have largely targeted young boys between the ages of 14 and 17. Law enforcement has identified more than a dozen suicides they say are directly attributable to the schemes.
“The sexual exploitation