The Justice Department and FBI warned parents of a dramatic increase in "sextortion" schemes mainly targeting teenage boys on social media, CNN reports. Federal law enforcement officials say at least 3,000 minors have been extorted, and they linked the internet scheme to at least a dozen suicides this year.
The DOJ says predators will use popular social media platforms to primarily target boys ages 14 to 17, though some victims have been as young as 10. The extortionists, who reportedly mainly originate from West African countries like Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, typically pretend to be girls to convince their targets to move to different platforms that primarily use direct messaging. They will solicit explicit pictures from the minor, which they later threaten to release to the victim's family and friends unless they send money. The perpetrators sometimes ask for thousands of dollars. The department says it remains unclear if the predators are operating in cells or individually.
"The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys — and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
FBI and DOJ officials say these crimes are primarily driven by "financial gain," not sex. A DOJ official told The Washington Post that this trend differs from other child exploitation crimes since the motive is financial and not a sexual attraction to minors. Still, Director Wray says the FBI needs "parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does."