CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

FBI warns parents sextortion of children online is rising in Utah

Jan 13, 2023, 4:28 PM | Updated: Jan 16, 2023, 3:25 pm
Sextortion of children online is rising in Utah, Idaho and Montana, and the FBI is warning parents ...
FILE: Exterior of the FBI office in Salt Lake City. (Photo Credit: Paul Nelson)
(Photo Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sextortion of young children, primarily boys, is on the rise in Utah, Idaho, Montana and across the country, and the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office is warning parents and caregivers to be vigilant about their children’s activities online.

The FBI defines sextortion as a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if the victim don’t provide the offender(s) with images of a sexual nature, sexual favors or money. Sextortion carries heavy penalties, which can include up to life sentences for the offender.

“I never thought this would happen to us,” said a Montana mother, who asked not to be identified, during a public service announcement (PSA).

During an online game, app or on social media, a predator (often posing as a young girl) deceives and manipulates the victim (usually a young male, 12-17 years old) and persuades him to exchange sexually explicit photos or engage in explicit activity on video, which the predator secretly records.

Then, the sextortionist(s) attempts to coerce the victim for money to stop the video(s) or photos from being posted online, according to the FBI. The criminals use pre-recorded videos of an attractive person to trick the victim into engaging in sexual acts or compromising positions according to Minc Law

According to the FBI:

In “Michelle’s” case, her 13-year-old son met who he thought was a teen girl on social media and was enticed to send compromising photos of himself to “her.” The perpetrator demanded money from the boy who then, like many young victims, considered self-harm. Fortunately, Michelle was able to get her son help and reported the crime to local law enforcement and the FBI.

“I think it’s terrifying that somebody can be the kind of human being that preys on people like that,” she said.

Protect children against sextortion

The FBI provides the following tips to protect you and your children online:

  • Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
  • Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  • Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
  • Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and that person asks you to start talking to them on a different platform.
  • Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

Help for victims

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:

  • Contact your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org).
  • Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
  • Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.
  • In 2021, the IC3 received more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, resulting in losses of over $13.6 million. This number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just this particular scheme.

More information about sextortion can be found at www.fbi.gov/news/stories/stop-sextortion-youth-face-risk-online-090319.

Related reading: Teen charged as adult in fatal shooting of girlfriend in Piute County

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FBI warns parents sextortion of children online is rising in Utah