CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

FBI says more teenage boys in Utah being extorted by online predators

Apr 14, 2022, 8:03 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2022, 11:42 am

(File photo: FBI headquarters in Salt Lake City.  Photo: Paul Nelson)...

(File photo: FBI headquarters in Salt Lake City. Photo: Paul Nelson)

(File photo: FBI headquarters in Salt Lake City. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal investigators say there is a troubling spike in the number of teenage boys getting sexually exploited and extorted by online predators.  They say victims are being tricked into sending sexually explicit images, then being blackmailed for money.

Online predators

Investigators say it’s a typical catfishing scam. However, the predators are targeting boys between the ages of 14 and 17 years old. That’s a group that officials say is especially vulnerable to this kind of tactic.  The suspects will pose as a teenage girl and befriend the boys online.  As they chat, the boys divulge personal information about themselves, like the names of their family members and where they go to school. 

Eventually, the conversation turns sexual. 

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dustin Grant said, “Sometimes, they even send images that look like a young female, and in return, the boys are reciprocating images of themselves which then are used for extortion schemes, specifically for money.”

Grant says once the predators have the pictures or videos they want, they reveal themselves to their victims and demand money.  Since they have so much of their victim’s personal information, they can easily intimidate the boy they scammed.

“They threaten to send those videos, once they get them, to family members and friends if they do not send money,” Grant said.

Been around for some time

This kind of scam has been around for a long time. However, Grant says they’re seeing a sharp increase in the number of reports they’re receiving.  About three years ago, the FBI would get one or two reports of these extortion cases per month.  Now, they’re getting far more.

He said, “We’re probably getting five to 10 a week with these, now.  I think that’s generally what we’re seeing across the country.  So, it’s not just specifically Utah.”

Grant says not only are teenage boys more vulnerable to this kind of attack, but they’re also less likely to come forward when they’re victimized.

“I think it’s under-reported, actually.  I think there is a lot more of these happening in the public,” Grant said.

Agents are warning teens and their parents to be extremely selective of the information they post on social media.  They also say teens need to be extremely wary of anyone they meet for the first time online. And they should be especially suspicious if they meet someone through a game or an app, then are asked to speak privately on a different platform.  Investigators say photos and videos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.

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FBI says more teenage boys in Utah being extorted by online predators