Financial Sextortion Cases are Rising, especially among Teen Boys
There are so many online dangers for parents to be concerned about that it can feel overwhelming. Sadly, it’s important for parents to be aware of the latest threats to their teens, and sextortion is a big threat and more common than you might think.
The most current sextortion trend targets boys between 14 and 17 years old. Adult predators pretending to be young girls feign romantic interest in the boys on gaming platforms, apps and social media sites. The adults deceive and manipulate the boys into sending nude photos or secretly record them engaging in explicit activity over a webcam and then demand payment for not publicizing the material.
Before you dismiss this trend as something your son would never fall for, you should know that the number of sextortion cases targeting teen boys is skyrocketing. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received more than 10,000 tips of financial sextortion of minors, primarily boys, in 2022. By the end of July 2023, NCMEC had already received more than 12,500 reports.
Imagine this scenario. A teen boy is messaged over Instagram by a teen girl. She saw his profile and told him he was cute. The boy has never met this girl, but her account is filled with photos and details about her life. They seem to have a lot in common. They begin connecting over messages back and forth for weeks. She is sweet and fun. They flirt, and the girl eventually sends a nude photo of herself. She asks him to send a nude photo back that includes his face. As soon as the teen boy sends a nude photo, the messages immediately change tone. Their “new friend” threatens to expose them by sending the nude photo to the boy’s family and friends unless he sends hundreds of dollars.
This violation feeds on the victims’ shame. The emotional results for a teen boy is devastating. Feeling embarrassed, hopeless and isolated, many feel like they have nowhere to turn and try to deal with the terrifying situation alone. Some young victims have even committed suicide.
How to Prevent Teens From Becoming a Victim of Sextortion
Parents must talk openly about the risks of online interactions. You can help protect your teens against sextortion by using the following tips:
- Be a safe space. Your children may be embarrassed, but you should have an open dialogue with them before they’re exposed to sextortion so that they understand what it is, how it works, and how easy it is to become a victim. But also let them know you realize everyone makes mistakes sometimes and that you will still love them and help them if they ever get in a bad situation.
- Discuss what is and what isn’t appropriate behavior online. Explain the consequences of a permanent digital footprint and how nude photos can be used, even years later, to blackmail people, whether that’s by a scammer or even by an ex-partner.
- Consider limiting your children’s internet use or spot-check their phones and other devices. Keep tabs on the people your children are communicating with. It is a good idea to require all devices to be charged in a public room overnight so that teens don’t have online access overnight.
- Review your child’s social media privacy settings. Keeping accounts private can prevent predators from gathering their personal information.
Being cautious, aware and educated about online scams can help prevent victimization. Review these important tips with your teen:
- Don’t accept a friend request from anyone online you don’t know in real life.
- Don’t give any personal contact info (email or handles) to anyone you haven’t met.
- If someone you don’t know asks for personally identifying information, say no.
- Never share your passwords with anyone.
- Don’t use easy to guess passwords, such as pets’ names, birth dates or anything that someone can guess by reviewing your social media profiles.
- Don’t click on links in e-mails that come from people you don’t know; doing so could compromise your device.
- Be wary of the recording devices you bring into your home. Some low-security devices (such as baby monitors and nanny-cams) are easy to exploit.
- Assume your webcam or recording devices can be activated remotely. Never have your phone or other electronic camera devices pointed at you while undressing or in a position you would not want to share with the world.
- Cover your webcam when you’re not using it; if your webcam doesn’t have a built-in cover, use a sticker or piece of tape to cover it.
What to Do If Your Teen Becomes a Victim of Sextortion
If your teen is a victim of sextortion, immediately take the following steps:
- Stop responding and block the harasser.
- Do not delete the conversation so you have proof and can report it to the authorities. Save all conversations, chats or messages between the predator and the victim.
- Refuse to pay or send more images — giving into demands will rarely make the problem go away and will often encourage the predator to demand more.
- Alert the online platform. Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms have a form to report sextortion.
- Notify the relevant authorities.
- You can contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.
- Report the abuse to NCMEC through its CyberTipLine, which serves as a clearinghouse for incidents that include sextortion that are then channeled to law enforcement.
- Get help for your teen. The emotional ramifications of this type of exploitation is intense. Here are different ideas for support:
- If explicit content has been posted online, victims under 18 can use the NCMEC Take It Down service. The service has a 98% success rate, and it’s usually completed within two days.
- The NCMEC’s Team HOPE connects victims with peers who had similar experiences and who can offer compassion and teach coping skills.
- This is a very traumatic event for a teenager, so please consider getting professional therapy for your child. You can ask your pediatrician for a recommendation.