Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

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Opinion

Talk to your kids about sextortion

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Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

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The FBI is warning Americans of a growing threat called sextortion, where online predators pose as young, single individuals to lure their victims, primarily single teenage boys, into a blackmail trap. After soliciting sexual photos or videos of the victim, the predator threatens to release the images or videos unless the victim sends money and/or banking information to the offender. Often, the predator then continues to demand more and more payments over time, using the explicit material as leverage against the victim. It is worth noting that sextortion can happen to anyone and that adults, too, should be aware of the signs and risks.

Watch the above video as Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence explains the key warning signs to watch out for in online interactions and how to talk to kids about the risks posed by these online criminals.


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The following is an excerpt of the above video:

Just as they were taught to look both ways before crossing the street and taught not to talk to strangers, if your kid is going to operate online, they need to know what to look for, and also how to operate in the aftermath: Collecting evidence by saving a record, recording the sextortion, cutting off contact, not paying a dime, telling you there is a problem, and then contacting the proper authorities. It’s essential that our children know that they can come to us and that we will protect them from the predators.

Because bullying is rampant, as is shaming young people with the threat of exposing their nude bodies, cyber criminals will not cease. That’s why the lines of communication between parent and child should forever remain free-flowing. Now, we’re fortunate to have an administration where the FBI is making sextortion of young people a priority. While they do their best to protect our youth, we must have the hard conversations that enlighten, educate and inform our kids. Our children deserve to be better prepared for the world around them so that they will have an opportunity to grow up and to make that world a better place.

When I heard that FBI director Christopher rea went to Africa on a mission to combat sextortion of American children, I was taken aback who knew that this was such a significant issue. But it is. Cyber criminals abroad are targeting a growing number of young people in the United States with sextortion schemes. That’s when someone online black males another by threatened to release their nude or sexually compromising photos unless the person pays a ransom. And sometimes even after the person pays, these cyber criminals will still demand more money. That was the case with 17 year old Jordan demais of Michigan. In 2022. The high schooler took his own life when he could not pay off the Nigerian nationals who’s continued to threaten to release the teens nudes. The men who initially pretended to be a teenage girl online had tricked demais into sending them his naked photos. Fortunately, those men were caught extradited to the United States and convicted, but there are and will be more criminals like them out there, which is why director Ray went to Nigeria and is working with their government to hold cybercriminals to account. The predatory nature of six Storting children is utterly reprehensible and unfortunately, successful. That’s why I fully support our government investing resources in preventing these types of attacks on our young people. That being said, we must also counter those attacks through our own education, coupled with Candid shame free conversation with our kids. First, it’s important to know that although anyone can be impacted, the FBI reports that sextortion victims are typically males between the ages of 14 and 17. From October 2021 to march 2023, federal law enforcement received over 13,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors. And in the final six months of that period, the FBI observed at least a 20% increase in reporting of sextortion incidents involving minors. Ultimately, there were at least 12,600 victims primarily boys, of which at least 20 took their lives. Young people also need to know that online scheming is everywhere. Although offenders are usually located outside of the United States, people will pretend to be someone that they’re not in hopes of putting our kids in vulnerable positions. Children aren’t safe online. We know this, as the Surgeon General’s new advisory about the effects of social media use has on young mental health makes that clear. We too, must ensure that our youth are better prepared to look for the signs of predation. Perhaps the user’s online profile doesn’t match up with what is seen and heard. And their webcam somehow isn’t working. They want to relay through text or even just the phone. Media in pop culture bombard a young people with messages that erode their sense of self worth, telling them that they’re not popular or good enough, good looking enough and so on. Post pandemic, the CDC reported that nearly half of high school students said that they had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. A cybercriminal will lean into these facts to exploit our children’s weaknesses and trust. They may come on strong and fast to making our children feel validated and valued. And it won’t be long before they’re piling on the pressure and purporting to send nudes of themselves and then asking our children to share them in return. Whether it’s cat fishing, scamming grooming, or playing out blackmail, it’s very real, and our children are no exemption, just as they were taught to look both ways before crossing the street and taught not to talk to strangers. If your kid is going to operate online, they need to know what to look for, and also how to operate in the aftermath. collecting evidence by saving a record recording the sextortion cutting off contact not paying a dime telling you there is a problem. And then contacting the proper authorities. It’s essential that our children know that they can come to us and that we will protect them from the predators. Because bullying is rampant as is shaming young people with the threat of exposing their nude bodies, cyber criminals will not cease. That’s why the lines of communication between parent and child should forever remain free flowing. Now we’re fortunate to have an administration where the FBI is making sextortion of young people a priority. While they do their best to protect our use. We must have the hard conversations that enlighten, educate and inform our kids. Our children deserve to be better prepared for the world around them so that they will have an opportunity to grow up and to make that world a better place.

 

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