As if parents don't have enough to worry about, now comes news that more and more instances of what is called "sextortion" are being uncovered. Most parents know what sexting is — mostly young people sending suggestive pictures of themselves to friends or occasionally much more widely. Most parents, I hope, have had talks with their kids about the dangers of sexting. But now they need to have another talk about something much more sinister and serious.
Sextortion is a crime that is hard to believe, but fairly simple to understand. A predator will come across a suggestive picture of a young person, or at times a not so young person — and there are various ways this can happen. They will then contact that person and threaten to tell the victim's parents or spouse or to post the found picture widely unless the victim poses for other pictures.
I won't name names, but a typical case was a 15-year-old Florida girl who received an email from someone she didn't know, saying he had possession of a compromising photo of her and would post it and tell her parents if she didn't send him photos of herself in the shower. Fearful, she complied, and then he said he wanted more and more explicit photos.
Eventually, the girl told her mother and together they contacted authorities and the case ended up with the FBI's Innocent Images National Initiative Task Force in Orlando. FBI Special Agent Nickolas B. Savage who was the head of the Orlando Task Force and now is with the FBI's Strategic Outreach and Initiative Section of its Cyber Division spent four years tracking down what turned out to be a pair of abusers who had attempted to extort the girl. In cracking the case, Savage found the pair had dozens of other victims.
In recent days I have seen details of other sextortion cases:
- A 14-year old Michigan boy who admitted first to his brother that he had been making sexually explicit videos with his computer's webcam to appease a blackmailer he had met online.
- A Pennsylvania man was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison. He had adopted a woman's online identity and tricked other women — some adults and some in their teens — to send explicit photos of themselves, and then blackmailed them into sending more and more explicit photos.
- A Michigan man arrested after he hacked into more than 100 computers by tricking people to download software that allowed him to take control of their computers. He found pictures of many of his victims on their computers and used these pictures to blackmail the victims in various unsavory ways. Forty-four of the victims were juveniles.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
The FBI gives quite a bit of practical advice on how to prevent yourself, or your kids, from becoming online victims. I'm sure you heard most of it before, but one is especially valuable in the context of sextortion: "If your computer has been compromised and you are receiving extortion threats, don't be afraid to talk to your parents or to call law enforcement."
This obviously is the message you need to deliver to your kids when you have this new talk.