The FBI is warning parents, caregivers and children about a growing threat to children in the United States: Sextortion cases involving minors are on the rise, and the trauma victims have experienced has led to an alarming number of suicides.
According to a news bulletin from the FBI, cases of sextortion were up 20% in the six-month reporting period from October 2022 to March 2023.
From October 2021 to March 2023, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations received more than 13,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors. The sextortion involved at least 12,600 victims — primarily boys — and led to at least 20 suicides, the FBI says.
What is sextortion?
Sextortion is the criminal act of coercing a minor to create and send sexually explicit pictures or video, then threatening to release the compromising content unless they produce more or receive payment.
"The shame, fear, and confusion children feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse," the FBI says. "Caregivers and young people should understand how the crime occurs and openly discuss online safety."
People who coerce children to produce more explicit content are "seeking sexual gratification," while financially motivated sextortion offenders are typically located in west African countries like Nigeria and Ivory Coast, or Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, the FBI says.
"[Payment] is often requested in gift cards, mobile payment services, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency," the FBI explains. "These offenders are motivated by financial gain, not necessarily just sexual gratification."
Who is more likely to be a victim of sextortion?
Sextortion victims are typically teen boys between 14 and 17 years old who are tricked by someone pretending to be a young girl online. But any child can become a victim at any age, the FBI says.
"The consequences of sextortion are being felt across the country," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the bulletin. "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."
How to report sextortion
The FBI says sextortion cases have led to an alarming number of suicides. (Photo by Celal GÃ¼neÅ/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The FBI urges Americans to report all forms of sextortion to local law enforcement or the FBI. You can report it to the FBI online at tips.fbi.gov or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).
In addition to contacting authorities, the FBI says potential victims should also:
- Report the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.
- Block the predator from contacting you.
- Save the profile or messages; those can help law enforcement identify and stop the predator.
- Ask for help from a trusted adult or law enforcement before sending money or more images. Cooperating with the predator rarely stops blackmail and harassment.
For more information on sextortion and financial sextortion, visit the FBI’s resources page.