Getting Answers: police warning of extortion incidents against teens

A disturbing crime is targeting teen boys.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 5:55 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 6:29 PM EST
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SOUTHWICK, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A disturbing crime is targeting teen boys. It’s called ‘sextortion’ and the FBI and a local police department are warning that cases are on the rise.

“It’s not about sex. It’s not about pornography. It’s about money,” said Southwick Police Det. Sgt. Tom Krutka.

There has been an explosive increase in teenage boys who have been targeted online and extorted for money after being tricked into sending explicit pictures.

“We’re starting to see this more and more and more and quite frankly, it’s just it’s getting out of control,” Krutka added.

The FBI said 3,000 children were victims of ‘sextortion’ schemes last year nationwide. In Southwick, Krutka has investigated three cases in the last six months. In all of them, the male victims - ages 15, 17, and 20 – were chatting online with someone who they thought was a teenage girl and talked into sending pictures of themselves, then came an immediate demand.

“Basically, a ransom note: either you give me that $5,000 or I am going to disseminate these photos all over the internet to all your followers including your mothers, brothers, cousins,” Krutka explained.

For some teens, the shame and fear is too much to take. In Columbus, OH last year, 15-year-old Braden Markus took his own life just 27 minutes after the online chat began.

“We’ve seen over a dozen suicides last year alone amongst boys who were targeted as victims of sextortion. We’ve seen this increase over twofold in the last year as well,” said Callahan Walsh with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Walsh said the best way to prevent abuse is through education.

“If families are thinking about getting a phone, then that conversation should happen right away,” said Tyrena Lester, victim services supervisor with the Hampden County Family Advocacy Center

Lester noted that parents need to be engaged and check in with their kids, especially if they’re spending a lot of time on their phone or isolating.

“Ninety-five percent of our kids have access to the internet and they are using the internet to connect. That means that they are trying to build relationships over the internet and so exploiters are using that and they’re using their relationship they’ve created to exploit them,” Lester explained.

Thankfully, none of the cases in Southwick led to suicide as the victims all reached out for help.

“Our victim will finally go to a parent, usually it’s a father. ‘Dad, you’re not going to believe this is what happened’ and they try to figure it out a little bit, and eventually come here,” Krutka said.

However, the investigations typically yield little results. The FBI only gets involved in cases where large amounts of money are being extorted. The online scammer could be anywhere, even overseas. Krutka said the best way to deal with ‘sextortion’ is to immediately cut off all contact. Paying money will not stop the blackmail and engaging further will only embolden them.

“The more you communicate with them or argue with them, the more they sink their hooks into you,” Krutka noted.

In most cases, the blackmailer doesn’t end up sharing the explicit photos, but Krutka has seen it happen when the victim continues trying to negotiate. Above all, he said to tell your kids to never send explicit photos of themselves to anyone.

“Once you hit that button and it goes into the cyber world, it’s out there. It’s never coming back. You’re never going to stop it, no matter what,” Krutka noted.

The FBI said most victims are between 14 and 17 years of age, but kids as young as 10 years old have been targeted.