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It’s becoming increasingly commonplace for sexual predators to hang out on social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. There, they specifically target underage teens with a variety of nefarious scams, almost all of which involve requests to post sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves.
Sexual extortion and social media
If the scams ended there, it would be bad enough. But the latest twist on this scam involves a more sinister, criminal angle. Young kids are actually being extorted for cash. The criminals and predators running these scams understand how scared young kids might be when told that sexually explicit photos of themselves might be released online, so they are capitalizing on that fear to shake them down for money.
For example, CNN recently reported on a Houston-area man who engaged in a social media “sextortion” scheme involving both young girls and young boys. His tactics were always the same: he first attempted to communicate with victims directly via the social media platform, specifically looking for young, attractive underage teens. Once he had established contact, he would attempt to trick them into providing sexually explicit material. Then, once he had a few photos or videos, he would engage in the extortion part of the scam: he would threaten to release these photos or videos publicly unless he received more of them.
In the most insidious part of the scam, the Houston-based criminal then used encrypted platforms such as Telegram to post and sell these pictures and videos to willing buyers, often advertising this content as featuring “minors under the age of 18.” Thankfully, he was finally stopped when he attempted to sell these explicit photos and videos to undercover cops.
Steps to protect your kids online
With the above scam in mind, there are definitely steps you can take to prevent your youngest family members from becoming a victim of sexual extortion. First and foremost, you should know who to turn to for help. Experts advise reporting any criminal incident to the local FBI field office. Experts also recommend the website of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as a great source of information and resources, such as tips and advice on how to get nude photos taken down online.
But perhaps the best advice is the most obvious: be careful of talking with strangers. Online, people can pose as anyone they like. Someone claiming to be a teenage girl might actually be a 60-year-old man. And, just as easily, someone claiming to be a teenage boy might be a 60-year-old woman. You never know. So you need to set some ground rules for your kids. They should only be communicating with people they know in real life, not random strangers. And you should also make it clear that they should inform you if someone is consistently making inappropriate comments on their photos or videos that are posted online.
Unfortunately, we live at a time when kids still in elementary school have social media accounts, and when it’s all too common for pre-teens and teens to post photos and videos of themselves all over social media. Thus, there’s no way to stop sinister things from happening online. But, by taking a few careful steps, it is possible to stop things before they get out of control and end up ruining someone’s life.