HOUSTON - The FBI is warning of an increase in sextortion cases involving young children.
According to members of the FBI, they’re seeing an increase in the number of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys over social media to produce sexual images and videos. The FBI says these adults then extort money from the children.
"[Investigating] this is a huge priority for the FBI," said Jeanette Milazzo, a special agent with the FBI. "Especially, the FBI in Houston. We’re seeing a huge uptick in sextortion complaints, especially in boys being sextorted for money. We see a lot of [this happening over] Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Kik."
In 2021, the FBI received over 18,000 sextortion related complaints. In addition, losses totaled more than $13.6 million.
"It’s becoming easier and easier to exploit children online," said Milazzo. "The Internet is becoming such an accessible place for kids."
In 2009, Ashley Reynolds was a victim of sextortion when she was 14-years-old. Reynolds is now working with the FBI to warn others.
"I’d have to send him all of these pictures," said Reynolds in an interview provided by the FBI. "As I’m doing these, he’d be like no, this isn’t right. This one is blurry. You’re not doing it right. You’ve got to do it again. He was set on sharing my picture with whomever he could to ruin my reputation. I gave him the pictures, and I got to keep my reputation."
According to Dr. Whitney Crowson from the Children’s Assessment Center, something like sextortion can have lasting impacts on children.
"It would likely become an anxiety related disorder, post-traumatic stress," said Dr. Crowson.
Milazzo says recent sextortion victims in Houston were boys between 13 and 17-years-old.
"It’s important for parents to have an open line of communication with their kids," said Milazzo.
The FBI provides the following tips to protect you and your children online:
- 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.
- Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- 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.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app, and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of extortion, contact your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org).