State officials urge parents to talk to their children about sextortion
According to the FBI, law enforcement agencies nationwide received more than 7,000 reports related to online financial sextortion involving children in 2022.
ALEXANDRIA — It can be difficult for a parent to talk with their child about sex, but that is what state public safety officials are recommending parents do in the face of a growing threat.
According to the FBI, law enforcement agencies nationwide received more than 7,000 reports related to online financial sextortion involving children in 2022, with at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys.
More than a dozen of those children died by suicide because they felt there was no way out of the extortion scheme.
On Feb. 6, two Minnesota officials spoke about the issue at a press conference and discussed what parents need to do to keep their kids safe.
"In the past we've talked about how the criminal is a sexual predator trying to get more explicit images or to meet for a sexual encounter," said Bob Jacobson, Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner. "But what we're seeing in Minnesota right now is a surge in a different kind of sextortion, sextortion that isn't about sex, (but) is straight-up blackmail, financial extortion."
"The crime almost always follows the same pattern," said Drew Evans, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension superintendent. "Most often it's a boy befriended on social media or gaming sites by someone purporting to be a beautiful girl. She convinces him to share an explicit image or video of himself that shows his face.
"Immediately the blackmailer demands money or gift cards from the victim, threatening to release the explicit images if they don't," Evans said. "If money isn't provided, the threat escalates further to phone calls and extreme pressure to find a way to produce the money. The pressure doesn't let up."
If the money isn't provided, the blackmailer releases the photos on social media, Evans said.
"In some cases they release the photos even after the money is sent," Evans said. "Tragically, these crimes have led more than a dozen young people to committing suicide across the united states in the past year."
Most of the victims of these types of crimes are boys 10 to 17 years of age, Jacobson said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has outlined steps parents and caregivers can take if their child falls victim to a sextortion scheme:
- Get help before deciding to pay. Cooperating with the demands rarely stops the extortion or harassment.
- Report the predator's account via the platform's safety feature.
- Block the predator but do not delete the profile or messages because they could be useful to law enforcement.
- NCMEC can help get the images off the internet if they are posted. Go its website, www.missingkids.org/HOME or call its 24-hour help line at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
BCA investigators have determined the perpetrators of the Minnesota cases are located in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.
"While the BCA has statewide jurisdiction and investigates cases that reach to other states and countries, the United States does not have agreements in place that would enable us to pursue criminals in these two countries," Evans said. "We continue to investigate and look for ways to hold these criminals accountable."
This is why the officials are focused on preventing these cases before they can happen.
"I cannot stress enough that while we can and are investigating these crimes and are working to hold criminals accountable, we need parents to help us prevent this crime from happening in the first place," Jacobson said. "Understand that, yes, this crime can happen to your child. Educate your children about the dangers of sharing images and information online, and please make sure that your children know they can come to you if they fail and fall victim to one of these criminals."
Evans added, "These criminals are counting on our children to feel fear and shame. They're counting on our children being afraid to tell you or another trusted adult, and that's why these conversations are so important to have. They're counting on Minnesotans not working together with law enforcement to bring this crime to an end."
Jacobson stressed that the victims of these crimes have not broken any laws themselves.
"They were tricked by a ruthless criminal," he said. "How it happened doesn't matter as much as telling a parent or trusted adult. We need to work together to stop this crime and prevent any further loss of money, innocence or lives that may result."
Evans agreed, saying, "Let's work together to dry up Minnesota's pool of victims. We must do it now before more of our young people are victimized by these criminals.
Resources for victims of sextortion include the following:
- FBI resources and conversation starters: fbi.gov/sextortion .
- NCMEC: missingkids.org/theissues/sextortion.
- Suicide Crisis Line: Call 988 or visit 988lifeline.org/ .