SAN ANTONIO - – It’s a form of online blackmailing that’s taken hold of children across the nation, including San Antonio.
Sextortion has become such an enormous problem and the FBI is on a mission to warn the public and teach parents what to look for.
The major target in the current trend is young boys, according to FBI Special Agent Jim Thompson, who works at the San Antonio FBI office, exclusively on crimes against children.
“Generally boys as young as 10 all the way up to 17,” Thompson said.
Here’s how it goes: a child is on a gaming site or social media app, and thinks they’re talking to someone their age. They begin a relationship and are eventually convinced to take sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves.
“The extorter immediately threatens to send those images to the contacts of the person who’s being extorted,” Thompson said.
Thompson said this trend has spiked over the past few years.
“We’ll get calls from the public multiple times a week just on this type of material alone, in San Antonio,” he explained.
Sextortion comes in two forms. Once the threats are made, the person may ask for money.
“They may initially ask for $5,000 and they know these kids don’t have $5,000 so they negotiate it down to $50,” Thompson said.
Some of these criminals are extorting hundreds of kids, and the money adds up.
“The second kind is more dangerous than the first, because those are the people who are sexually interested in children. In this case they’ll start to extort them for more, and usually more graphic images,” Thompson said.
He calls it torture.
“The problem is the kids feel panicked, they don’t know where to go, they’re embarrassed, they’re afraid to go to their parents,” Thompson said.
The FBI reports, the stress of the situation has caused some of these children to take their own lives.
Thompson wants parents to know, the best thing you can do is to tell your kids these things can happen, and set up a strong level of trust.
“You have to express to them that if they ever find themselves in this situation that is embarrassing, they can still come to you,” he said.
Stopping the situation before it goes too far is best. Thompson tells parents to look at their children’s phones, and track who they’re talking to.
“Their child may be a gamer, maybe they use Discord. Starts there, and moves to another chat. Anytime someone asks you to move to another chatting application, that should be a red flag,” he said.
If you notice your child plagued by stress, withdrawing from family, or obsessing over their phone, bring this up.
If sextortion is already happening, Thompson said to immediately stop talking to the person and report it to the police or FBI.
You can reach the FBI San Antonio Division at 210-225-6741, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov. You can also learn more on the FBI website.