FBI Warns of Sextortion Scams Against Teenage Boys

More than a dozen suicides this year are attributed to the schemes, officials say
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 19, 2022 5:13 PM CST
FBI: Sextortion Scams Against Teenage Boys Are Increasing
FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks earlier this month in Ann Arbor, Michigan.   (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The FBI sounded the alarm Monday about an explosive increase in teenage boys being targeted online and extorted for money after being tricked into sending sexually explicit pictures. At least 3,000 children, mostly teenage boys, have been victims of the schemes that are connected to more than a dozen suicides this year, a scale that federal authorities have not seen before, Justice Department officials said. Many think they are chatting online with people around their own age but are quickly manipulated into sending explicit pictures and then blackmailed for money with threats to release the images, the FBI said. Most victims are between 14 and 17, but kids as young as 10 have been targeted, the AP reports.

The FBI said it was issuing the national public safety alert now since kids may be spending more time online as schools close for winter break. There's been a staggering tenfold increase in reports since last year, and there are likely more victims who never came forward, FBI officials said. Embarrassment and shame can prevent victims from asking for help. "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," said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement.

Many schemes are believed to be originating in West African countries like Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Scammers typically pose as kids of similar age, often using a girl's profile picture. It happens often on large platforms like Instagram or Facebook but can also be on gaming or video chats, authorities said. The alert is meant to thrust the issue into the public spotlight, so kids can feel more comfortable coming forward and adults can help them learn how to spot fake identities and reject anyone asking for explicit images, a Justice Department official said. The Department of Homeland Security is also working to track fake accounts back to their source. "The best defense against this crime is to talk to your children about what to do if they're targeted online," said Michelle DeLaune of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (This Canadian teen killed himself just 3 hours after "sextortion" began.)

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