FBI agents are seeing an alarming trend in Utah, with an increasing number of teens falling prey to sextortion scams. He says it seems the scammers are focused exclusively on boys.
The FBI’s Salt Lake City office says they are seeing reports of five to ten of these cases each week, when in recent years, that number may have been closer to a week.
It’s heavy on agents that they rely on local law enforcement to help them investigate cases.
It is part of the nationwide trend. Supervisory Special Agent, Dustin Grant, says it is unclear why boys in particular are being targeted, except perhaps the fact that boys are more reluctant to report being victims.
KSL TV spoke with the director of Net Positive, an organization that educates parents and kids about how to protect themselves…runs Utah County’s boys and girls clubs.
“Online hunters are really, really good at what they do … and they’re very resourceful,” said Cole Parkinson, Net Positive’s director. “At first, it starts out like a very light conversation here and there… but then it slowly starts to escalate. And what they do is that they have many of the same interests as the child. ,
Parkinson says scammers are usually adults, posing as young, attractive teens. This is part of a growing problem that the FBI is looking into across the country and here in Utah.
Grant says the FBI is relying on local law enforcement to help investigate dozens of cases.
“There’s a lot for us to handle … the quantity that we’re getting right now,” Grant said. “The scams or scheme they are running typically involves children sending nude or sexually-explicit images of themselves to these individuals who they believe are essentially peers.. “
Grant says they will use those images as blackmail to get money or more pictures.
Parkinson says that not only do parents need to be vigilant, but teens need to learn not to trust so much.
“They can act as if they know the same people. They can include incentives where they can help them accomplish their goals.”
A major red flag… when those conversations become more personal. Parkinson said it’s important that parents keep an open dialogue and that teens don’t feel threatened at the prospect of seeking help.
“The piece of the relationship is very important with the parent and child, because you want the child to have the ability to say, ‘Hey, I’m in this situation and it’s really difficult,'” Parkinson said.
Many scammers in these cases are overseas, which can make it difficult to prosecute.
The FBI also certainly wants to hear from anyone who may have been the victim of one of these scams, or who may know of someone else being the victim, to report here.