Financial Sextortion: A Growing Threat

DULUTH, Minn. – Our son came into the bedroom and instantly we knew something was wrong based on the look on his face. After a few minutes he was able to tell us that he was being threatened on social media,” a Minnesota Mother of a sextortion victim says.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) is urging parents to have a tough conversation with their kids about sextortion, a growing threat on social media.

“The crime always follows the same pattern. Most often it’s a boy befriended on social media or gaming sites by someone reporting to be a beautiful girl. She convinces him to share explicit image or video of himself that shows his face. Immediately the blackmailer demands money or gift cards from the victim, threatening to release the explicit images if they don’t,” BCA Superintendent, Drew Evans says.

In the past, sextortion has mainly been an issue of sexual predation, but now there is a rise in financial sextortion, or straight up blackmail, mostly overseas.

“These criminals are counting on your children to feel fear and shame. They’re counting on our children to be afraid to tell you or another trusted adult and that’s why these conversations are so important to have,” Evans says.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) defines these criminals as opportunists and while young boys from the age of 10 to 17 are the primary target, young girls are also being targeted.

“After looking at the messages myself, what was scary from a parent’s perspective was how they were very, very skilled at getting him to do exactly what they wanted,” a mother of a sextortion victim says.

The Predatory Crimes Investigators with the Minnesota BCA have determined that the state cases originated from the countries Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

“While the BCA has statewide jurisdiction and investigates cases that reach to other states and countries, the United States does not have agreements in place that would enable us to pursue criminals in these two countries,” Evans says.

In the past year, nationwide, these crimes have led to more than a dozen young people taking their own lives.

“The victims of these crimes didn’t break any laws; they were tricked by a ruthless criminal and how it happened doesn’t matter as much as telling a parent or trusted adult if it does,” MN DPS Commissioner, Bob Jacobson says.

“To think that you know you set up some of these parental controls and it’s going to monitor the situation for you and as a parent I have now learned I need to be actively involved in that phone on a regular basis,” a mother of a sextortion victim says.

To avoid this from happening to your child, experts say it’s crucial to educate them about the dangers of sharing pictures and information online.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has a few steps to follow if your child falls victim to a sextortion scheme.

First, get help before deciding to pay. Second, report the predator’s account. And third, block the predator but do not delete the profile or messages because they could be of use to law enforcement.

The NCMEC can also help you get the images off the internet if they were to be posted.

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