“Sextortion” cases reported to federal authorities involving young adults or children have skyrocketed in recent years.
The University of Dayton warned students Thursday about such cases.
“Students typically receive a request on a social media app or game platform to add someone they do not personally know,” the alert from UD said. “Those who engage in sextortion adopt a fake persona that would be attractive to the potential victim to increase the likelihood of being added as a friend.”
Once the victim is added, UD said, the extortionist will begin chatting with the potential victim and eventually ask to exchange explicit photos. If the victim does so, the extortionist will then threaten to send the photos to other people unless the victim sends them money.
The Department of Justice said more than 3,000 minors were targeted for “sextortion” last year. These crimes often occur on social media, gaming apps or other social platforms where young people are, according to the DOJ.
Most kids who are targeted are between the ages of 14 and 17, but kids as young as 10 have been targeted. A large portion of the schemes are being traced to the West African countries of Nigeria and Ivory Coast, the FBI said.
“Victims may feel like there is no way out,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a December press conference. “It is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone.”
University of Dayton administrators said they wanted to tell people about the situation because of the nature of the crimes, which could be embarrassing for people.
“We want our community to know there are people who can help them in these situations,” they said.
Wright State University spokesman Seth Baugess said WSU is aware of the issue but has not had any reports of sextortion on its campus.
Olentangy High School student Braden Markus committed suicide in October after he reportedly was the victim of a person posing as a girl and extorting him over pictures he had sent, according to WBNS-TV in Columbus.
Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has held Markus up as an example to push for stricter laws around parental rights and social media.
Social media companies like TikTok and Facebook would be required to get verified parental consent before allowing a child under age 16 to have an account, according to a law proposed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in his new budget.
If you are the victim of any crime like this, report it to the FBI, Homeland Security, or your local police department.
Staff reporter Lynn Hulsey and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 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 org/IsYourExplicitContentOutThere to learn how to notify companies yourself or visit cybertipline.org to report to us for help with the process.