WASHINGTON - The FBI, the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have issued a national alert about the rise in sexploitation cases of children and teens.
In a news release, officials said they have noticed an "explosion in incidents of children and teens being coerced into sending explicit images online and extorted for money—a crime known as financial sextortion."
The agencies said over the past year, there have been more than 7, 000 reported cases relating to the financial sextortion of minors.
The cases involved at least 3,000 victims— mostly boys— and more than a dozen suicides.
Authorities said financial sextortion schemes usually happen over social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat applications. They said online predators create fake female accounts to target boys between 14 to 17 years old, with victims as young as 10 being interviewed by the FBI.
They add a large number of the cases originated outside of the U.S., primarily in the West African countries of Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
Predators would then use and threaten to release the images unless the victim sends money or gift cards. Some images are released despite the payments being made.
"The shame, fear, and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse," authorities said.
FBI wants to advise parents and caregivers to talk to their children about the dangers of crime to prevent further incidents.
"The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys—and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a news release. "The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does. Victims may feel like there is no way out—it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone."
What if you or your child is a victim?
If young people are being exploited, they are victims of a crime and should report it. Contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has outlined steps parents and young people can take if they or their child are a victim of sextortion, including:
- Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.
- Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail and continued harassment.
- Report the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.
- Block the predator and do not delete the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.
- Let NCMEC help get explicit images of you off the internet.
- Visit missingkids.org/IsYourExplicitContentOutThere to learn how to notify companies yourself or visit cybertipline.org to report to us for help with the process.
- Ask for help. This can be a very complex problem and may require help from adults or law enforcement.
- If you don’t feel that you have adults in your corner, you can reach out to NCMEC for support at firstname.lastname@example.org or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.
- Take a moment to learn how sextortion works and how to talk to your children about it. Information, resources, and conversation guides are available at fbi.gov/sextortion.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.