Scams and Fraud

4/25/2022 | By Annie Tobey

Do you know a teenager? They and their loved ones should know about the increase in sextortion schemes. Predators are especially targeting males age 14 to 17, but other youth are vulnerable as well. These prevention and reporting tips from the FBI can help stop the criminals.

What is sextortion?

Sextortion is the coercion of a child by an adult to produce Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). It can result in a life sentence for the offending adult – but only if they are caught.

Sextortion schemes begins with the predator posing as a young girl on social media. The “girl” builds an online relationship with the teenager. Through deception, manipulation, flattery, money, gifts, or threats, the predator convinces the young person to produce an explicit video or image. The predator secretly records and saves the video or image. When the young person starts to resist requests to make more images, the criminal will use threats of harm or exposure of the early images to pressure the child to continue producing content.

“These predators are really good at targeting youth,” said Special Agent Kiffa Shirley in the FBI’s Billings Resident Agency in Montana (part of the Salt Lake City Field Office). Shirley recently investigated a case where the criminal offered money in exchange for explicit images from teens. That man, Tyler Daniel Emineth, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his crimes.

The predator can also use the video to extort money, bank account information, or gift cards from the victim by threatening its release on various social media pages.

“Young people don’t seem to have an on-guard mentality when it comes to strangers contacting them through the Internet,” said Shirley. “And many teens feel less inhibited about sharing online.”

That sense of trust and comfort allows a criminal to coerce a young person into creating and sending an image, which begins the cycle of victimization through the sextortion schemes.

distraught young teen boy at laptop photo by Ilia Burdun Dreamstime. Teenagers and families need to know these FBI prevention and reporting tips to avoid falling prey to sextortion schemes and sexual predators.

While the thought of coming forward to report these crimes to a trusted adult or the authorities may seem overwhelming and embarrassing, the consequences of not doing so are worse in the long term – for the victim and future victims.

Even if the predator never tries to extort money, they can become vicious and non-stop with their demands, harassment, and threats. Victims report feeling scared, alone, embarrassed, anxious, and desperate. Many feel like there’s no way out of the situation.

But there is a way out.

“We assure victims and their families that our goals are to end their victimization, prevent others from being victimized, and hold these predators accountable,” says a statement from the FBI. “Our investigative team includes FBI Victim Specialists who help victims and their families understand and navigate the criminal justice system and coordinate appropriate services and resources.”

Further, FBI authorities say, “You are not the one who is breaking the law. This situation can feel really confusing, and the criminals count on you feeling too unsure, scared, or embarrassed to tell someone. Even if this started on an app or site that you are too young to be on. Even if you felt okay about making some of the content. Even if you accepted money or a game credit or something else, you are not the one who is in trouble.”

What can be done to stop sextortion schemes?

The following tips may help protect families and children online. Note that females can fall prey to sextortion schemes as well.

  • Consider restricting social media accounts. If social media accounts are open, a predator may be able to connect personal information to obtain significant material for illegal use.
  • Be sensitive to the information you share online, especially personal information and passwords.
  • Remember anyone, predators included, can pretend to be anything or anyone online.
  • Be cautious of anyone you encounter for the first time online, and remember that videos and photos are not proof of identity.
  • Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  • Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and you’re asked to switch to a different platform.
  • Encourage all children to report suspicious or uncomfortable behavior to a trusted adult.

What victims of a sextortion scheme and their families should do

  • Do not forward the material to anyone else, including parents and guardians. Forwarding this CSAM could compound the issue.
  • Do not delete anything before law enforcement has had an opportunity to forensically review it.
  • When speaking with law enforcement about these online encounters, be honest and open. Investigators are trained and compassionate individuals, and the information you provide assists us in locating these predators.
  • Make a report.

Where to report a sextortion scheme

Schools, parent/teacher organizations, or other entities that would like a presentation on this material to help raise awareness and prevent future victimization of our youth can contact the Community Outreach Specialist at their local FBI.

Visit the FBI website for additional information and resources.

Related: People of all ages fall prey to technology scams

Protecting seniors from scams

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey