Growing 'sextortion' trend tricks boys into sending explicit images through gaming sites, extorted for money
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension posted a video and warning to parents this week that sextortion crimes have morphed from criminals trying to set up sexual encounters or obtain photos into a crime focused on blackmail, KARE 11 reported.
Cyber criminals are targeting young boys through video games and other social media sites by pretending they are young, pretty girls, bureau Commissioner Drew Evans said in the video. The criminals then convince the boys to share an "explicit image or video of himself that shows his face," he added.
Then the criminals pounce and demand money from the kids.
"Immediately, the blackmailer demands money or gift cards from the victim, threatening to release the explicit images if they don't," Evans explained.
It’s not a new trend, according to Evans, but it has grown in recent years and can also happen to young girls. He explained investigators in the state first heard of the incidents a few years ago, and they have since ballooned to "hundreds of additional incidents here in Minnesota, and more than 3,000 victims nationwide."
What’s additionally disturbing is if the young boys don’t pay the blackmailers, the criminals might try threats of murder, he said.
"If money isn't provided, the threats escalate to threatening to kill the victim or their loved ones," Evans said. "At this point, the threat escalates further to phone calls and extreme pressure to find a way to produce the money. The pressure doesn't let up. And, again, some of these victims have been as young as 10 years old."
The photos are sometimes released if the boy never provides the money, and even sometimes released when the funds are sent to the blackmailers.
"Tragically, these crimes have led to more than a dozen young people committing suicide across the United States in the past year," Evans said.
It’s difficult for law enforcement officials in the U.S. to pursue many of the criminals as they are often based in Nigeria or the Ivory Coast.
"These crimes are being originated overseas, so it's very hard to hold people accountable," Evans said, according to KARE 11. "The way we will get out of this problem is through education of our young people."
Evans said parents need to sit their children down and discuss the threat and how to protect themselves from strangers online.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children advises on its website that such sextortion incidents need to be reported on the platform of the social media site or game. The suspect’s account should also be blocked, but the victim’s account or messages with the suspect should not be deleted. Victims may reach out to the nonprofit at email@example.com or 1-800-THE-LOST for additional assistance.
"Remember, the blackmailer is to blame, not you. Even if you made a choice you regret, what they are doing is a crime," the nonprofit details on its website. "Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the blackmailer. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail."
A spokesperson with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also shared a link with Fox News Digital of an interview with a mom in the state whose child was conned into sending explicit photos of himself to criminals.
"He started crying. He had his phone in his hand, and he just said, ‘My life is over,’" the mom recounted in the video. "He was so scared, and I think shocked by the whole thing that had transpired, that he couldn't get the words out."
Evans said criminals are "counting on your children to feel fear and shame" and that parents need to get ahead of such threats by talking to their kids.
"They're counting on our children to be afraid to tell you or another trusted adult, and that's why these conversations are so important to have," Evans said.