U.S. issues public safety alert on ‘sextortion’ schemes targeting teen boys


Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a public safety alert about a rise in "sextortion schemes" targeting teenaged boys in the United States. File photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/4f17783e110484a3edb3d778dcb44d42/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a public safety alert about a rise in “sextortion schemes” targeting teenaged boys in the United States. File photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 19 (UPI) — The Justice Department issued a public safety alert Monday about a rise in “sextortion schemes” targeting teenaged boys in the United States.

Homeland Security Investigations, along with FBI officials, told reporters they have seen a tenfold increase, in the first half of 2022, in schemes that coerce teens into providing sexually explicit images, which are later used to extort money.

“The sexual exploitation of children is a heinous crime. We will continue to exhaust every resource at our disposal to identify and support victims and to locate and apprehend perpetrators to ensure they face justice,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

While young girls are often the target of online sextortion schemes, officials said the rise in these schemes has involved mostly teenaged boys between the ages of 14 and 17.

There were more than 7,000 reports of online financial extortion of minors over the past year, according to the FBI. Many cases started on social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram. More than 3,000 minors, mostly boys, became victims leading to more than a dozen suicides.

“The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys — and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

FBI officials believe the criminals targeting young victims are based outside of the United States, mostly in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

Predators use deception to convince their victims to create explicit photos and then threaten to release the material if they do not receive money, according to FBI officials who say shame and fear often prevent minors from reporting the abuse.

“We know criminals hide in digital spaces to target their victims — in websites, chat rooms, peer-to-peer trading and other Internet-based platforms. But they cannot evade the dedicated workforce at HSI, where our special agents are leveraging the latest methods and technologies to go after these criminals. We will hold them to account,” Mayorkas said.

A study earlier this year found, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, males were twice as likely as females to fall victim to online blackmail. This includes threats to publish explicit photos, videos and personal information, according to the journal Victims & Offenders.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children urges parents to blame the predator, not the child, and to report the sextortion before paying any money since that rarely stops harassment. The NCMEC can also help to get explicit images off the Internet.

“This is a growing crisis and we’ve seen extortion completely devastate children and families,” said Michelle DeLaune, CEO of the NCMEC.

“As the leading nonprofit focused on child protection, we’ve seen first-hand the rise in these cases worldwide. The best defense against this crime is to talk to your children about what to do if they’re targeted online. We want everyone to know help is out there and they’re not alone.”



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