GREENVILLE COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – The FBI is sending a warning about an increase in sextortion schemes targeting teenage boys.

FBI representatives said they’ve been investigating sextortion schemes cases for many years, but recently agents have seen an increase in the crime with a new twist, and it’s exploding across the nation.

“So for years actually, probably around five years, we have been seeing a crime online that we’ve called sextortion, which is where children are on social media apps or gaming platforms, and they are friended or messaged by someone else online, who is an adult– but pretends to be a child,” said Shelley Lynch, Public Information Officer for the FBI’s Charlotte Division.

“So what we’ve seen in the past, is that adult who again–the child thinks is another child, you know, spends time grooming that victim getting to know them– gaining their trust and then begins to ask them to share inappropriate photos,” Lynch said.

“Those people online then say if you don’t keep sending me photos I’ll release your photos online,” Lynch said. “So that’s what we traditionally have known as sextortion,” she said.

However, recently, Lynch said they’ve seen a big increase in a new scheme.

“What we’ve seen over the past year, a great increase of is–rather than the person online asking for additional photos they began to ask for actually a ransom. So they have warned the child and they’ve actually threatened the child, that if they don’t pay them money online, you know through Venmo or third party app or something like that, if they don’t pay a ransom, then that offender will release the underage shots photos,” Lynch said.

Lynch said within the last six to eight months, they’ve seen an increase in the targeting of teenage boys.

“An increase in this really fraud that’s aimed at underage boys. So they– the offender will send what the young man thinks is an inappropriate picture of a girl, and the person is actually not that young lady, and so, then that’s how they are encouraging the boys to send photos. And then they’re threatening you know, for payment, if you don’t pay this particular ransom, then we will release your photos on the Internet. “We will attach them to your social media account, we will–you know, embarrass your parents. There’s a variety of different threats and tactics that they’ve used and that we’ve seen and again we’ve seen an increase in this,” Lynch said.

“The FBI has seen this scheme, over the past six to eight months really explode nationwide,” Lynch said.

Lynch said they typically see an increase in offenders targeting children during the summer months, when kids are on devices more.

“We still see an increase typically during the summer and it can be you know, a variety of different ways, it can be predators, who are trying to victimize young children by receiving inappropriate photos from them and, in this case actually an extortionist who just wants to make money,” Lynch said.

With this in mind, the FBI is sending a warning now.

“We want this to be kind of a wake up and a warning sign and a call to action you know, to really check out what your child is doing online,” Lynch said. “Have honest conversations with them and let them know that if something like this has happened, that they are not at fault,” she said.

Lynch said it’s important to set ground rules, even if that means doing spot checks on their devices.

“You can’t trust who that is behind the keyboard of the profile. So make certain that you have candid conversations with your children. That you do spot checks on their phones,” Lynch said. “That you know, you check with them. We even have an agent who investigates these cases and from time to time, he sits down with his children and they go through the account and say, do you know this person. Have you met this person in real life and, if so, where,” Lynch said. “And if his children can’t go through that and tell him where he’s seen…where they’ve met that person in real life, they delete that account and they delete that contact,” she said.

Lynch said parents, caregivers, and school and church leaders should all play a part in making sure children understand not everyone online is who they say they are.

“Just because that profile says it’s someone that’s your age, it’s someone that lives near you… someone that knows your friend, it doesn’t mean that, that’s really who they are. So unless you’ve met that person online, you can’t trust who that is behind the keyboard,” Lynch said.

“You know you can’t take a photo back once you hit send. There’s no way to get it back– so having children understand, that they need to you know– be responsible,” Lynch said.

“We’re encouraging kids, to be honest and have an open conversation with their parents. If they have been victimized by the scam they are not at fault. They have not committed any crime, but we do need them to notify us of that so we can warn other people. We can potentially and hopefully stop and locate that offender and be able to keep more children from being victimized,” Lynch said.

FBI representatives said often times the offenders may be overseas, and they may be difficult to locate. If they are caught, criminals could face up to a life sentence in the federal system.

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