FBI warns parents and children sextortion cases on the rise

Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 6:39 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Imagine being blackmailed to send explicit images online and facing threats to you and your family if you don’t do it.

The FBI warns it’s seen a huge increase in the number of “sextortion” cases involving children and teens.

19 Investigates found a local task force is seeing it happen to adults too.

Sextortion threats can happen through a website, an email, social media or a game.

The FBI calls it blackmail.

We found Ohio ICAC, Internet Crimes Against Children task force, is seeing a lot of these cases locally too.

“Essentially they’re being catfished and some of them are, some of these cases have people that are blackmailing them for photos and ‘if you don’t keep sending me these photos, I will post them on the internet’ and that happens from children all the way up to adults,” said Fallon Radigan, Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor and supervisor of the ICAC unit.

Sextortion can happen when an adult poses as a child online, asking for graphic photos from a child or teen.

And it escalates when they ask for more and threaten to share them online or with their parents, even threatening them with violence.

It can happen with adults who think they’re “sexting,” but it’s really a criminal they’re talking to online.

“As soon as you create that document and or video image, anything that you were sending to someone else, you can’t get it back. You know a lot of these applications believe that you can, they can disappear, but they’re not disappearing. People can screenshot them and you’re not in control of that video image. After it’s sent you lose that control of your privacy at that point in time,” Radigan said.

So why do kids and teens fall victim to sextortion?

Experts say it’s a mix of shame and fear that keeps them from asking for help or reporting the abuse.

Sometimes sextortion can even be a scam.

We’ve seen emails that say things like this:

“I assume some photos- particularly #2 and 7- would be familiar to you.”

These emails may include a link that could infect your computer.

To protect your child or yourself from becoming a victim, the FBI recommends:

-Never send compromising images of yourself

-Don’t open attachments from strangers

-And turn off devices when you’re not using them.

You can read more safety tips and information from the FBI here.

Sextortion is a crime that can lead to serious charges.

If you or your child have been victimized by sextortion, you can report it to ICAC or the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at tips.fbi.gov.