At least 3,000 minors, mostly boys, have been targeted by financial “sextortion” schemes this year, a dramatic increase from previous years, the Justice Department announced in a public safety alert on Monday.
Using social media platforms, predators will, in some cases, start communicating with the targeted minor before moving the conversation to a different platform that primarily uses direct messaging, according to the department. Victims are tricked into providing explicit material, and then the perpetrators will demand money – sometimes thousands of dollars – threatening to release the images to family members and friends of the victim, the department says.
“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 statement.
At least a dozen victims have died by suicide as a result of these crimes, according to the department.
The schemes, which have primarily targeted boys ages 14 to 17 – though some as young as 10 – largely originated from West African countries, including Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, according to the department. It’s unclear if these cells of perpetrators are connected.
Wray said that the FBI needs “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,” the director said.