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Crime & Courts

Feds Warn Of Growing Sextortion Threat To Minors

“The consequences of sextortion are being felt across the country …”

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Cases of sextortion involving minors – particularly minor boys – are continuing to climb, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported this month.

For those unfamiliar with sextortion scams, they typically target young men between the age of 14-17 – but any child can become a victim. Sextortion scams involve offenders coercing minors into creating and sending them sexually explicit images and/ or video. After receiving the sexually explicit material from the child, the offenders threaten to release the compromising material unless the victim pays them – and/ or produces more compromising material.

The FBI press release – intended to warn parents, educators, caregivers and children about the dangers of online activity that may lead to the solicitation and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual acts – indicated an especially large uptick in financial sextortion, in which teens are specifically extorted for money. According to the FBI, offenders are usually located outside the United States – primarily in west African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast, or Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines.

From October 2021 to March 2023, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) received over 13,000 reports of alleged online financial sextortion of minors. These alleged sextortion scams involved at least 12,600 victims — primarily boys — and led to at least 20 suicides.

In the six-month period from October 2022 to March 2023, the FBI observed at least a 20 percent increase in reporting of financially motivated sextortion incidents involving minor victims compared to the same period the previous year.

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Sextortion has been a big issue in South Carolina. With the enactment of Gavin’s Law in 2023, it is now a felony punishable by lengthy prison sentences. The Palmetto State legislation was championed by South Carolina state representative Brandon Guffey following the suicide of his 17-year old son, Gavin Guffey, in early 2022 after being targeted by a sextortion scam.

In October 2023, our media outlet interviewed Betsy Hauptman of Sumter, S.C. regarding her 13-year old son Timothy Barnett‘s suicide following a sextortion scam. Hauptman’s frustration with the investigation process by the Sumter, S.C. police department indicated a need to provide training to local law enforcement agencies in the identification and investigation of sextortion crimes. The FBI and HSI have taken over the investigation into Barnett’s suicide.

“The consequences of sextortion are being felt across the country,” FBI director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “In an effort to protect the American public, the FBI encourages parents, educators, caregivers, and children to learn more about the steps they can take to shield themselves and their loved ones from this crime. We and our partners will relentlessly pursue criminals who perpetuate this deplorable activity.”

Click here for information on Gavin’s Law in South Carolina. To report possible exploitation of a young person or child, contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov. Take a moment to learn how sextortion works and how to talk to your children about it. Information, resources, and conversation guides are available at fbi.gov/StopSextortion.

Remember, “no shame is worth losing your life over.”

As is our custom in reporting on stories involving suicides, if anyone reading this post is dealing with issues that have them questioning whether to take their own life (or harm themselves), please – call a friend.  You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK. Or just text/ call 988 (more info here).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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