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‘Sextortion’ scams on the rise, predators targeting teens online

Authorities are warning parents about an online scam that is growing around the U.S., including here in the Coachella Valley. It's called 'Sextortion', or 'Sexploitation', and it's a difficult concept to grasp, but the consequences can be devastating. It's a scheme that Detective Sergent Miguel Torres with the Palm Springs Police Department, is seeing much more of.

"You can be anybody who you want on the internet," said Torres. "They could be using these fake photos from the internet, to entice males to think that they're females. And then they begin sending them photos. You believe that you're talking to this person, when in actuality it's an adult, on the other side of the country that you're talking to. And they're very experienced in learning how to manipulate a person.”

According to Torres, predators use social media to create fake profile, pretending to be a teen. They then message the victim, and interact with them over several days, weeks or months. Eventually, they form a relationship with the victim, and convince them to send intimate photos. The predator then turns around and uses those photos as black mail, demanding money or more pictures.

"They use of the fear of exposing you to your family and friends," said Torres. "They use that intimate photo that you may have sent, and threaten to share it with family and friends to embarrass you. It's a never ending cycle that they won't stop until you stop communicating with this person, or report it to the police.”

According to a study conducted by the FBI and Homeland Security, between October of 2021 and March of 2023, over 13,000 cases of 'Sextortion' of minors was reported around the U.S. alone. Most of the victims were boys between 14 and 17-years old. Within that timeframe, twenty minors ended their own lives because of the scheme.

In order to prevent these scams there are some warning signs you can look out for.

"If it's a random person asking you something, you should definitely see that as a red flag," said Torres. "And then if they begin asking you for photographs, or you know, flirting with you for no specific reason when they haven't met you in person, that should definitely be a red flag, because that's where the the beginning of the manipulation starts.”

Authorities say an important first step is to have a conversation with your child about these scams, and then possibly setting up some security steps on their devices to protect them online. Make a space that they feel safe enough to speak with you about these topics.

"As a parent, talk to your children and also remind them of that that anything they put on the internet on the internet is a record for life," said Torres. "Monitor who your children are speaking to in their chat logs. We want to trust in our children, and have our kids have trust in us. But at the same time, there's so many predators out in this world that we don't know who's talking to our kids. So it's important that we stay on top of our kids and monitor what they're doing on the internet. There's different type of software that you have out there now with your modems, that you can set parameters on there."

Most of all, remind your kids that if this does happen to them, they are not in trouble with law enforcement. In fact, reporting 'Sextortion' is the best way to catch the predator, end the cycle, and protect your child.

"Often time, kids, they feel like they let down their parents," said Torres. "They're embarrassed about it, when they should know it wasn't their fault, that they're the victim and they're going to be treated as the victims. The key thing is just reporting it. That's where it first begins, once you report it and stop any interaction with the suspect, then we get involved and we attempt to get a hold of the suspect, and it usually stops.”

The FBI has several resources and protocols on how to handle these types of schemes. For more information see any of the links below:

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Tori King


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