SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — The San Francisco’s FBI Division is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving “sextortion” of young children.

The FBI says they’ve received an increase in reports of adults posing as young girls connecting with young boys through social media in an effort to persuade them to send explicit images and videos and ultimately extort money from them. According to FBI San Francisco, they’ve received dozens of complaints involving boys who were reported victims of sextortion, mostly for money, and others for additional images.

“These crimes have had devastating effects on children and their families,” said FBI San
Francisco Acting Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan. “We need to disrupt these criminals by
making potential victims and their parents aware of the sextortion threat. Parents and guardians
should talk to their children about the dangers of online communication, and the importance of
speaking up if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.”

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What is sextortion?

According to the FBI, sextortion begins when an adult contacts a minor over any online platform used to meet and communicate, such as a game, app, or social media account. The predator, often posing as a young girl, uses deception and manipulation to convince young teenage boys (14 to 17-years-old) to engage in explicit activity over video, which is secretly recorded by the predator.

The predator then reveals to the victims that of the recordings and attempts to extort the victim for money to prevent them from being posted online. Authorities say many of the predators are miles away overseas and will often demand money in increasing amounts if any is sent during the initial request.

“Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered Child
Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) carries heavy penalties, which can include up to a life sentence
for the offender,” FBI San Francisco said in a press release Wednesday. “To prevent continued victimization, it is imperative children come forward to someone—a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement.”

Preventative Measures

  1. Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and
    passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to
    figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
  1. Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages
    from strangers.
  2. Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are
    not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
  3. Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to
    them on a different platform.
  4. Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion, you are urged to contact FBI San Francisco at 415-553-7400 or online via tips.fbi.gov

Authorities also recommend victims not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it and to make sure to inform law enforcement of everything about the encounters online.

In 2021, the FBI says it received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, with losses of over $13.6
million. The number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just this specific scheme.