FBI Sees Increase in Sextortion Scams, Particularly Among Teen Boys

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FBI Warns of ‘Huge Increase’ in Sextortion Scams Targeting Teens

FBI Warns of ‘Huge Increase’ in Sextortion Scams Targeting Teens

Aug 11, 2022

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reported an increase in online sextortion scams aimed largely at teenagers, according to multiple media outlets. Various FBI branches, including the San Francisco Field Office, recently issued warnings to parents and caregivers regarding 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,” a press release from the bureau’s San Francisco Field Office stated.

A July article published in the Mercury News noted that the FBI had warned of a “huge increase” in sextortion scams targeting teens earlier this year, particularly boys aged 14 to 17. The Mercury News article also indicated that data provided by the Cyberbullying Research Center confirmed that 5% of teens have been the target of sextortion recently, yet only one-third notified their parents of the incidents.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center:

“Males were significantly more likely to have experienced sextortion (both as a victim and as an offender)” and “adolescents who identified as non-heterosexual were more than twice as likely to be the victim of sextortion.”

The FBI San Francisco Field Office confirmed having received dozens of complaints involving boys who were reported victims of sextortion within the last year. Most of those incidents involved soliciting victims for money, although others were reportedly sextorted for additional images, according to the FBI press release.

“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.”

What is Online Sextortion?

According to the FBI, 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 FBI said.

Predators may initiate contact under the guise of a friendship. Cases of scammers posing as employees for modeling agencies and requesting photos and/or videos have been reported.

The predator then typically follows the following pattern:

  • Revealing that they have made the recordings of the victim
  • Attempting to extort the victim for money to prevent the recordings 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,” the FBI said.

What are the Penalties for Online Sextortion Scams?

As the FBI notes, sextortion is a serious crime. In fact, 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.

In California, if sextortion is committed by an adult (an individual at least 18 years old), the crime is considered a felony. Punishment for sextortion in California can include a sentence of between two and four years in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Attempted sextortion is considered a “wobbler” offense under California law. Such a crime can be punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor, typically dependent on the prosecutor’s discretion.

When charged as a felony, attempted sextortion carries potential penalties of a sentence of between 16 months and three years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

When charged as a misdemeanor, attempted sextortion carries a potential penalty of a sentence of up to one year in county jail.

How Can Parents and Caregivers Prevent Sextortion Scams?

To prevent continued victimization, the FBI recommends that children come forward immediately to a trusted adult – a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement official – and report the incident.

“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,” the FBI said.

The FBI also offers the following tips for parents and caregivers to protect 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.

According to the FBI, in 2021, the IC3 (Internet Complaint Referral Form) received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, with losses estimated at over $13.6 million. The FBI notes that this number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just the specific scheme referenced above.

How Can I Report a Sextortion Incident to Law Enforcement?

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion in California, the FBI offers the following options for reporting an incident:

  1. Contact FBI San Francisco Field Office at 415-553-7400 or online via tips.fbi.gov.
  2. Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org).
  3. If you want to report a crime outside of California, contact your local FBI field office or dial 1-800-CALL-FBI.
  4. Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
  5. Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.

Contact a California Child Sexual Abuse Lawyer for a Free & Confidential Consultation

Child sexual abuse represents an urgent national issue requiring intervention at the federal and state level. A recent report from The Hill highlights the rampant nature of child sexual abuse, noting that:

“Every minute we fail to act is a minute that another child is in danger of joining the 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-13 boys who experience sexual violence and abuse.”

If you have a child sexual abuse claim, the team of dedicated, experienced, and proven sex crime lawyers at Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is here to fight aggressively for justice on your behalf. A child sexual abuse civil lawsuit can be a means of recovering maximum financial compensation for the harm endured as a result of a predator’s actions. DLG’s sexual abuse lawyers are available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have about filing a childhood sexual abuse civil claim.

Some common questions we receive from clients regarding the child sex abuse litigation process include:

  • How long will it take for my case to reach a final resolution?
  • How much is my childhood sexual abuse case worth?
  • Can I remain anonymous throughout the claims process?

A dedicated member of DLG’s SAJE Team (Sexual Abuse Justice Experts) will be able to answer all of these questions and more when you sit down for a free, confidential, and no obligation consultation.

DLG’s SAJE Team offers childhood sexual abuse survivors a unique form of all-encompassing legal representation and support which includes:

  • Former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian, and his team of sexual abuse lawyers
  • An in-house licensed clinical therapist
  • Two in-house and nationally accredited victim advocates
  • Retired LAPD sex crimes detective and DLG’s in-house Chief Investigator, Moses Castillo

Child sexual abuse claims are currently not bound by any statute of limitations under California AB 218. This means that, for a limited time, any survivor of childhood sexual abuse may file a lawsuit seeking financial compensation, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

However, AB 218’s three-year lookback window expires on January 1, 2023. As a result, survivors must file claims before the December 31, 2022 deadline to ensure that their opportunity at justice is not hindered.

Contact DLG’s proven and trusted sexual abuse lawyers today at 818-322-4056 to learn more about how a childhood sex abuse lawsuit under AB 218 can help you get the justice you deserve – even for crimes committed decades ago.


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