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FBI warns of teen “sextortion” crime trending in Utah

UTAH — The Salt Lake City Federal Bureau of Investigation Field Office and the mother of a teen victim have put out a joint warning on the increase in incidents involving “sextortion” of young children, primarily boys, in Utah, Montana, and Wyoming.

Sextortion happens when an adult contacts a minor online through any online platform used to meet and communicate. The predator, pretending to be a young girl, uses deception to convince a young man, typically between the ages of 12-17, to exchange sexually explicit photos or engage in explicit activity over video.

The predator will then attempt to extort the victim for money by threatening to post photos or videos online. This criminal offense carries heavy penalties, including up to life sentences for offenders.

According to a press release, the Salt Lake City FBI receives dozens of reports of sextortion crimes every month.

“That is only the tip of the iceberg because many of these kinds of cases don’t go reported,” said Aaron Eisner, an FBI senior resident agent.

A Montana woman who has chosen to be identified only as “Michelle” is urging other parents to be vigilant of their children’s online activities after her 13-year-old son became the victim of sextortion.

“I never thought this would happen to us,” Michelle said.

Michelle’s son thought he had met a teenage girl on social media and was persuaded to send that person a compromising photo of himself. The perpetrator demanded that the teenager send them money, at which point Michelle’s son considered self-harm. Fortunately, Michelle got her son help and reported the crime to law enforcement.

“I think it’s terrifying that somebody can be the kind of human being that preys on people like that,” Michelle said.

To stop the victimization, children need to tell an adult they trust what’s happening.

“The embarrassment children feel from the activity they were forced to engage in is what typically prevents them from coming forward,” said a press release from the Salt Lake City FBI. “Sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims around the world, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify the offender may prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation to that victim and others.”

The FBI has provided 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 that person asks 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 your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org).
  • Do not delete anything before law enforcement can 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 particular scheme.

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