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The Financially Motivated Sextortion Threat

FBI warns about dangers of online schemes targeting young adults and minors

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In these schemes, predators typically pretend to be alluring young girls to befriend teen boys—often on social media and gaming platforms. The predators then trick these teens into exchanging sexually explicit material or believing the predators have already obtained it. Image Source: FBI
In these schemes, predators typically pretend to be alluring young girls to befriend teen boys—often on social media and gaming platforms. The predators then trick these teens into exchanging sexually explicit material or believing the predators have already obtained it. Image Source: FBI
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Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI this week issued a new warning about an evolving online threat targeting minors and young adults: financially motivated sextortion.

In these schemes, predators typically pretend to be alluring young girls to befriend teen boys—often on social media and gaming platforms. The predators then trick these teens into exchanging sexually explicit material or believing the predators have already obtained it.

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Once the scammers have a victim’s pictures or video, they demand money to keep the explicit material from being shared with the victim’s family and friends. Even when victims comply, scammers often demand more money and escalate the threats.

FBI Video

Transcript / Visit Video Source

The FBI saw a 20% increase in reports of financially motivated sextortion incidents targeting minors during a six-month period that ended in March 2023, compared to the previous year. The scam is the latest iteration of sextortion, which has historically been driven by sexual gratification and control, but is now mostly motivated by greed. Minors and young adults caught in this trap often feel isolated, embarrassed, and cornered with seemingly no way out. In some cases, victims have turned to self-harm and suicide.

The FBI is urging parents, educators, caregivers, teens, and young adults to fully understand the dangers of financially motivated sextortion and to know there are options for those who need help.

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“The consequences of sextortion are being felt across the country,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We and our partners will relentlessly pursue criminals who perpetuate this deplorable activity.”

“The consequences of sextortion are being felt across the country.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray

Anyone being exploited in a sextortion scheme should do the following:

  • Understand you are not at fault and you are not alone
  • Ask for help from a trusted adult or law enforcement before sending money or more images. Cooperating with the predator rarely stops the blackmail and harassment—but law enforcement can
  • Report the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature
  • Block the predator from contacting you
  • Report the scheme immediately to the FBI or local law enforcement
  • Save all interactions; those can help law enforcement identify and stop the predator
  • If sexually explicit images have been shared, visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Take it Down tool or Is Your Content Out There? for potential removal

From October 2021 to March 2023, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) received over 13,000 reports of financial sextortion of minors. The crimes involved at least 12,600 victims—mostly boys—and led to at least 14 suicides during this timeframe. The offenders are usually located outside of the United States—primarily in west African countries like Nigeria and Ivory Coast or Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines.

The threat has not abated in the year since the FBI and HSI issued a warning about sextortion, but investigators and victim advocates hope that educating parents and children about the dangers of sextortion—and ways to cope afterwards—can help stem the problem and protect kids.

“Victims may feel like there is no way out,” Director Wray has said. “It is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone.”

If you or someone you know believes that they are a victim of sextortion or financially motivated sextortion, immediately report the activity to law enforcement. You can report it to the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or visiting tips.fbi.gov.

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