FBI Phoenix warns about ‘sextortion’ schemes targeting teenage boys
PHOENIX – With kids having more free time to spend online during summer break, law enforcement officials are warning Phoenix-area families about a rise in ‘sextortion’ schemes targeting teenage boys.
Sextortion is where a perpetrator convinces a victim to provide a sexual photo or video and then uses it as leverage.
“After this perpetrator gets pictures and images and content, he responds back and says, ‘OK, you either have to send me more pictures or I’m going to put these on the internet, or I’m going to tell your parents, or I’m going to get you in trouble somehow,” Kevin Smith, a public information officer with the FBI Phoenix office, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.
Smith added that sometimes the scammers ask for money.
“We’re seeing an increase all over the country on this, and now basically with schools on summer break and teens spending more unsupervised time online, this is a good time to warn teens and their parents about an increase in these incidents,” he said.
The schemes are often carried out by adults pretending to be girls who target boys ages 14-17.
“If you don’t know who you’re talking to, if you haven’t seen this person with your own two eyes and only know them online, be very, very careful,” Smith said.
Sextortionists are adept at tricking their victims by offering money, phones or videogame credits or threatening friends or family.
“If parents become aware of a situation like this, we urge [them to] listen with kindness and understanding. … Let them know they’re a victim and have done nothing wrong,” Smith said.
He said the FBI has a lot of experience handling sextortion cases and wants families to feel comfortable reporting them. The offenders often have hundreds of victims around the world.
“We’ve helped thousands of young people through this,” Smith said. “Our goals are to stop the harassment, arrest the person behind the crime and help these victims get the support they need.”
The FBI says victims shouldn’t delete any evidence, even though it may be embarrassing. Sextortion cases can be reported to local police departments, the FBI Phoenix at 623-466-1999 or the FBI’s online the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The FBI offers the following tips for online safety:
- 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 they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
- Remind children that once photos are sent on the internet – through email or an app – that content is out there forever, and you can’t get it back.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Colton Krolak contributed to this report.