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Sextortion Scams on the Rise: Children and Teens at Higher Risk

Law enforcement agencies across the United States are reporting an increase in online sexual extortion crimes, commonly known as ‘sextortion.’ These crimes involve perpetrators using sexually explicit photos sent over social media and the internet to extort money or sexual favors from their victims. While all ages are vulnerable, the majority of cases involve minors.

As a result, law enforcement agencies are encouraging parents to monitor their children’s activities online closely. The FBI has reported a rise in sextortion cases involving children since 2021, with over 18,000 complaints filed in total. The Justice Department has also noted a significant increase in financial sextortion cases involving minors. In Colorado, law enforcement agencies have seen a rise in these crimes, with minors being the primary targets.

According to the Homeland Security Investigation’s Denver division, minors are often the main targets of these scams, but adults are sometimes also victims. In 2020, the agency received 25 tips related to sextortion cases, while in the first five months of 2022, the agency had already received over 200 tips for similar crimes. The Pueblo Police Department has noted a rise in nude photos posted without consent, with nine cases in 2021 and more in 2022.

Perpetrators typically communicate with minors through online chat applications like Instagram or Snapchat. During interactions, they convince victims to send sexually explicit images or videos. They then threaten to send the images or videos to everyone on the victims’ friends and family lists on social media.

In some cases, the perpetrator demands payment to keep the photos from being shared, while in others, they request more images or videos to keep the originals private. The Safe2Tell program provides an anonymous venue for reporting these crimes to law enforcement officials, and victims can report sextortion cases to the organization by visiting their website, calling 1-877-509-2422, or downloading the Safe2Tell app.

Law enforcement officials have reported a significant increase in the number of sextortion cases. While increased awareness has contributed to an increase in arrests for these crimes because more people are willing to come out and report them, there is still significant underreporting.

The Internet Crime Against Children Task Force Program states that only 13% of reported sextortion incidents are reported to law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies are calling on parents to closely monitor their children’s activities online and educate them on the dangers of sharing explicit content online. The impact of these crimes on victims can be severe, ranging from blackmail to sexual assault.

Perpetrators often demand payment or further explicit content from their victims to keep images and videos private, leading to psychological trauma for victims. Law enforcement agencies are working to address the rise in these crimes and encourage victims to come forward and report incidents to help prevent future cases.