I have not thought about anything other than Chris Moody’s article from this week’s Washington Post on the sextortion fraud involving young boys. primarily because I personally know a child who was victimized in this manner; it was a sad circumstance. But to find out that this issue is so pervasive that hundreds of teenage boys are “sextorted” every year?
In short: Someone posing as a gorgeous teen girl lures in teen boys on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and other platforms of all types. They have a brief conversation, click, flirt, get to know one another, and exchange some personal details before the “girl” requests a photo of him in a nude state with his face showing.
The boy receives demands for hundreds or thousands of dollars immediately after sending them, which is referred to by law enforcement as “financial sextortion” or blackmail.
Of the more than 10,000 cases that were documented, 12 of the most terrible ones tragically ended in suicide in 2022. As a parent, I can not think of anything scarier.
Because of how widespread it is, the FBI issued a National Public Safety Alert on Sextortion Schemes in January 2023. Since then, reports have been released by law enforcement agencies all around the world. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 12,500 reports of sextortion incidents in the US as of July of this year.
What then can we as parents do?
Fortunately, the report highlights the measures one of the victim’s parents took to keep their son safe.
Of course, the first step in ensuring your children’s tech safety is to talk to them frequently and early on, even before they have their own phones, on how to use social media and technology safely. Additionally, it’s critical that they understand they can always turn to you with any issues, worries, or queries.
But if your kid does approach you with a problem like this, here’s how experts advise handling it:
- Your child is the sufferer here; don’t criticize or hurt them.
- Take screenshots of every discussion and other conversational proof, even if your youngster is inclined to erase it.
- Block the account that is targeting your child and inform the channel or platform’s trust/safety team of the interaction and account name. You can report sextortion to Snapchat by clicking “Nudity or Sexual Content” and then “They Leaked/Are Threatening to Leak My Nudes” on the Meta website. You can reach the FBI and local law enforcement by dialing 1-800-CALLFBI or visiting tips.fbi.gov. Additionally, get in touch with the NCMEC, which offers a reporting mechanism and a ton of victim resources.
- Lock down all of your child’s social media accounts (or really, have them do it) and comb through it with them to be sure your child personally knows all of their friends/followers.
- Remind them that you love them no matter what, and you’re here to support them through all of this.
A terrible world exists. I understand. These are horrifying tales. But this serves as a crucial reminder that in order to keep our children safe, we can’t solely rely on parental controls, monitoring apps, or even banning social media apps; rather, what matters most is mutual respect and trust with our teenagers, an open discussion about technology, and teaching them how to responsibly manage their own online activity over time. Also, get specific — they should come to us if a “girl” on the internet asks them for nude photos with their face in it. Trust me; real girls don’t want your teen’s nudes.
Let’s also remember that kids — even so-called “good kids” — will still make mistakes. It’s not a reflection on your parenting; teens’ brains aren’t fully developed, and they take risks. Our job is just to help keep them safe as possible, online and off, as they gain those experiences and learn to navigate the world. Stay Safe!
By Danny Reyes