At least 3,000 young people, mostly boys between 14 and 17, were targeted last year as part of a “sextortion” scheme, a drastic increase from previous years.
Last month, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sounded the alarm about the new trend of sextortion, where sexual predators trick their victims into sending them sexually explicit content and then use those images as blackmail.
A dozen minors died by suicide because of the ongoing blackmail, investigators said.
“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 in a statement.
These types of online enticement crimes have skyrocketed in recent years. According to the NCMEC from 2018 to 2021, there was over a 300% increase in reports of online enticement.
“This is horrible, but (the internet) is a predator’s paradise. There are no safety measures,” said Dr. David Thomas, a Criminology professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.
The FBI says the schemes mostly come from countries in West Africa, specifically Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.
Investigators say awareness is the best way to prevent these types of crimes.
“I would want to know every password. I would want to know every website. Not that I’m going to go through everything, but I want to know,” Thomas said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has an entire page dedicated to stopping online sextortion.
The NCMEC can also be reached at email@example.com or by calling 1-800-THE-LOST.