FBI issues nationwide alert over increase in sextortion cases

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – The FBI has issued a national public safety alert warning parents of financial sexual extortion schemes. This is when an adult threatens to share explicit or nude images of a minor.

Authorities at the Milwaukee field office say it doesn't look like these crimes will go down anytime soon. In fact, cases of sexual extortion have been on the rise: the FBI reports a 1000% increase since 2022.

Taking a picture and sending it to someone you know online may not have been something you paid much attention to a few decades ago. But now? According to Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force Supervisory Special Agent Trevor Skis, it happens more often than you might think. “During the COVID months and years, kids spent a lot more time in front of a screen or with a tablet in front of them. Interaction with kids their age or individuals they think are their age have taken on a different shape or form. They think it’s normal, when in fact you don't even know if they’re telling you the truth regarding their identity, where they live, their name, everything they've said to hopefully broker a relationship or commonality with the victim solely for the purpose of extorting them,” he said.

The perpetrator in these cases, according to Special Agent Skis, is usually a man, who often does not even live in the same state or country as the child he is trying to befriend. Often, they find victims on popular social networks such as Instagram, Snapchat, Omegle, or video game sites such as Discord or Roblox. When their profile is set to "public", the perpetrator has much more information to make it appear as if they are similar.

"At first, they don't even recognize that they are victims. They think they're talking to someone of a similar age, with similar interests.... That progresses to a point where the victim obviously feels somewhat comfortable sending images online, thinking they are in a relationship with this individual. Once they're in a supposed 'relationship'.... The victim, who can be as young as ten years old, may start sending pictures of themselves. As soon as they do, the perpetrator may blackmail them to keep sending more and more graphic photos or ask for money."

Agent Skis claims that children will feel trapped, as they don't have access to hundreds and hundreds of dollars, "the concern at large would be that the victims then, the children, feel helpless.”

That's where the FBI says it can help. Instead of deleting accounts or feeling shame and simply sending the money, officials are asking families to come forward, so that this dangerous cycle can end. “It’s easy to be embarrassed about something like this, but at the same time, bring it to law enforcement’s attention because that’s the only way we can identify individuals who are engaging in this particular behavior…. And hopefully have the opportunity to prevent them from exploiting anyone else.” adds Agent Skis.

If you or someone in your family is a victim, FBI officials say there is no need to be ashamed.

To report suspected sextortion or get help from law enforcement, call your local FBI office or 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324).

Other resources:

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children


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