I’ve written a few posts about the need for parents to be vigilant about their teenage daughters and the dangers of sexting and/or sharing nude photos online. Today I want to cover the topic of “sextortion”, from my perspective as a private investigator who has dealt with a number of cases that involve teenagers whom have been blackmailed after having shared risque or nude photos online or via text.
Some might dismiss this phenomena as something that happens to “stupid” or “weak” kids. It has nothing to do with that. In my experience, this sort of thing cuts across all barriers – regardless of intelligence, socioeconomic status, or anything else. Toward this end, I think it’s helpful to recognize that teenagers engage in some degree of riskier behavior as a part of normal brain development.
Some might dismiss this phenomena as something that happens to “stupid” or “weak” kids. It has nothing to do with that.
In short, in the teenager years, most tend to operate less through reason and more through emotion. Couple the cognitive changes in the brain with the normal social pressures of being a teen. There’s relentless peer pressure. An extreme need to feel belonging.
The best decisions are not always made.
So again, “sextortion,” occurs when a person is extorted for money after sending sexually explicit photos or videos to someone over the internet or text. This can become a popular form of blackmail and sometimes can turn deadly.
The Washington Post recently reported on one such case – involving the suicide of a George Mason University student. The student and a friend had apparently been enticed to send provocative webcam footage to someone who managed to gain their trust. Shortly thereafter, the victim was hit with a demand for $5000. If they didn’t pay, the video would be circulated to their friends, family and all over the Internet.
This prospect was apparently too much for the young woman to face (and she’s far from alone). As the Post reported:
An FBI analysis of 43 sextortion cases revealed at least two victims committed suicide and at least ten more attempted it. Thus, at least 28% of these cases had at least one sextortion victim who committed or attempted suicide.”
The Department of Justice warned that “sextortion is by far the most significantly growing threat to children”.
The article also details the workings of sophisticated international criminal rings devoted to nothing but trolling for sextortion victims.
In my own work as a private investigator, I recently ran across a wanna-be criminal mastermind. An associate came to me asking for help. His teenage daughter had been enticed into dancing topless on a webcam. Shortly afterward, she was hit with a demand for $2500… or else.
Normally, these threats are generated from pros with an untraceable IP addresses in Nigeria, Russia or other foreign lands. Any phone numbers they provide are always untraceable “burner” cell phone. When this happens, I advise the parents to pay up, learn their lesson and move on. I know this probably goes entirely against the grain of most people. In doing dozens of these cases, I have found that there is a small amount of “honor” among these thieves. It is usually a one-time hit. These criminals have so many victims they rarely return to try to blackmail anyone twice.
In this particular case, I was able to trace the IP address to a local house. The suspect turned out to be a young man, living at his parents’ home, who knew the daughter socially. He had befriended her online and won her confidence with lavish praise about her looks. He built her self-confidence, which was somewhat lacking, to an all-time high.
If your child becomes the victim of blackmail, be prepared to feel the financial sting.
This young man had watched a few too many crime shows on television and read about sextortion on the Internet. He requested that the cash be dropped off at a table in a post office. He advised the young lady to address the large white envelope to a phony name.
I sent one of my investigators from my San Diego office to have a talk with the young man. Suffice to say, the demand was dropped. The family chose not to press charges. They were just glad that the matter was behind them.
Whether it’s an amateur or a professional criminal sitting behind a keyboard ten thousand miles away, “sextortion” is a very real danger for young women. It will only be a short time until this creepy behavior is launched against more male subjects – many of whom will be all too glad to expose themselves.
It is sometimes awkward and uncomfortable for parents to discuss these matters with children. If your child becomes the victim of blackmail, be prepared to feel the financial sting of their evil. Even worse in some cases, is where the person is a sexual predator only wants the photos for personal gain and to share with other deviants on the internet.
When your child gets the opportunity to testify in a far off state in front of a judge and jury as the victim, you may wish you would have had that discussion.