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FBI Issues Warning About Online Threats

The FBI recently issued a new warning about an evolving online threat targeting minors and young adults: financially motivated sextortion. In these schemes, predators typically pretend to be alluring young girls to befriend teen boys — often on social media and gaming platforms. The predators then trick these teens into exchanging sexually explicit material or believing the predators have already obtained it.

Once the scammers have a victim’s pictures or video, they demand money to keep the explicit material from being shared with the victim’s family and friends. Even when victims comply, scammers often demand more money and escalate the threats.

The FBI saw a 20 percent increase in reports of financially motivated sextortion incidents targeting minors during a six-month period that ended in March 2023, compared to the previous year. The scam is the latest iteration of sextortion, which has historically been driven by sexual gratification and control, but is now mostly motivated by greed. Minors and young adults caught in this trap often feel isolated, embarrassed, and cornered with seemingly no way out. In some cases, victims have turned to self-harm and suicide.

The FBI is urging parents, educators, caregivers, teens and young adults to fully understand the dangers of financially motivated sextortion and to know there are options for those who need help. “The consequences of sextortion are being felt across the country,” said FBI director Christopher Wray.

Anyone being exploited in a sextortion scheme should do the following:

• Understand you are not at fault and you are not alone.

• Ask for help from a trusted adult or law enforcement before sending money or more images. Cooperating with the predator rarely stops the blackmail and harassment — but law enforcement can.

• Report the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.

• Block the predator from contacting you.

• Report the scheme immediately to the FBI or local law enforcement.

• Save all interactions; those can help law enforcement identify and stop the predator.

If sexually explicit images have been shared, visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Take it Down tool or Is Your Content Out There? for potential removal.

These public service announcements in multiple formats are available to download and share. They are among the resources on highlighting the dangers of financially motivated sextortion and providing options for young adults and teens who fall victim to these online scams.

From October 2021 to March 2023, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations received over 13,000 reports of financial sextortion of minors. The crimes involved at least 12,600 victims — mostly boys — and led to at least 14 suicides during this timeframe. Meanwhile, the FBI is aware of over 20 deaths by suicide resulting from financially motivated sextortion. The offenders are usually located outside of the United States — primarily in west African countries.

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