SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving sextortion of young children. The FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them.
Sextortion begins when an adult contacts a minor over any online platform used to meet and communicate, such as a game, app, or social media account. In a scheme that has recently become more prevalent, the predator (posing as a young girl) uses deception and manipulation to convince a young male, usually 14 to 17 years old, to engage in explicit activity over video, which is then secretly recorded by the predator. The predator then reveals that they have made the recordings and attempts to extort the victim for money to prevent them from being posted online. Many of the subjects are overseas and will often demand money in increasing amounts if any is sent during the initial request.
Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) carries heavy penalties, which can include up to a life sentence for the offender. To prevent continued victimization, it is imperative children come forward to someone—a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement. Children may feel a sense of embarrassment from such a traumatic experience. However, sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims worldwide, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify, and ultimately apprehend suspects, may prevent additional incidents of sexual exploitation from occurring.
Within the last year, the FBI San Francisco Field Office has received dozens of complaints involving boys who were reported victims of sextortion; mostly for money, although others were reportedly sextorted for additional images.
“These crimes have had devastating effects on children and their families,” said FBI San Francisco Acting Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan. “We need to disrupt these criminals by making potential victims and their parents aware of the sextortion threat. Parents and guardians should talk to their children about the dangers of online communication, and the importance of speaking up if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.”
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 they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:
- Contact FBI San Francisco at 415-553-7400 or online via tips.fbi.gov, or contact 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 over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, with losses over $13.6 million. This number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just this specific scheme.
More information about sextortion can be found at https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/stopsextortion- youth-face-risk-online-090319.