The FBI is warning parents about an “alarming increase” in children being coerced into sending explicit images and extorted for money in northern Illinois.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago said this week that the numbers are rising exponentially nationally and even faster in the Chicago area when it comes to “financial sextortion.”
The FBI recorded a 463% increase in sextortion complaints from 2021 to 2022. In the Chicago area, the FBI recorded a 539% increase during that same time period.
There was a 322% increase in the crimes between January to February 2022 and January to February 2023.
In the Chicago area, there was a 383% increase in complaints during that same time.
A large percentage of the schemes originate outside of the United States and primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
“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 December.
“The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does. Victims may feel like there is no way out—it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,” Wray said.
The schemes occur in online environments where young people feel most comfortable, such as common social media sites, gaming sites or video chat applications, according to the FBI.
Online predators often use fake female accounts and target minor males between 10-17 years old, but the FBI has interviewed victims as young as seven years old.
Through deception, predators convince the young person to produce an explicit video or photo.
Once predators acquire the images, they threaten to release the compromising material unless the victim sends money or gift cards, the FBI said.
Often the predators demand payment through a variety of peer-to-peer payment applications.
In many cases, the suspects release the images even if payments are made.
The shame, fear and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in the cycle often prevent them from asking for help or reporting the abuse, the FBI said.
Financial sextortion can cause severe emotional distress and can lead to depression or suicide in children.
The FBI said they implore parents and caregivers to engage with their kids about the schemes to prevent them.
Anyone who has been a victim of this type of scheme should contact their local FBI field office by calling 800-CALL-FBI or reporting it online at tips.fbi.gov.