The FBI issued a public safety alert Monday about a financial sextortion scheme targeting children and teens.
The alert says law enforcement has received 7,000 reports this year of minors, mostly boys, being coerced into sending explicit images of themselves and then being extorted for money.
“The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys—and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
At least a dozen of the victims committed suicide after being extorted, according to the FBI.
The agency says the minors are being targeted on social media sites, games sites and video chat apps.
A large percentage of the sextortion schemes originate outside of the United States, primarily in West Africa, the FBI states.
“The sexual exploitation of children is a deplorable crime. HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) special agents will continue to exhaust every resource to identify, locate, and apprehend predators to ensure they face justice,” said Steve K. Francis, HSI acting executive associate director. “Criminals who lurk in platforms on the internet are not as anonymous as they think."
Parents are urged to talk to their children about the sextortion schemes and let them know it's OK to come to speak with an adult about these sensitive situations.
“The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does," Wray said.