Voice of the consumer: FBI warns of rising ‘sextortion’ of children, teens

The FBI is seeing a huge increase in the number of cases of children and teens being coerced into sending explicit pictures online.
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 5:09 AM MDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2023 at 6:37 AM MDT
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Our 11 News Call For Action team pens a weekly column for our news partner The Gazette. Previous columns can be found here.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - I have an important warning this week from the FBI about a crime called “sextortion.”

The FBI is seeing a huge increase in the number of cases of children and teens being coerced into sending explicit pictures online. I spoke exclusively with the head of the FBI office in Denver.

“Sextortion refers to online activity that leads to the solicitation or enticement of minors to commit sexual acts,” said Mark Michalek, special agent in charge of the FBI Denver Field Office. “It’s a form of child pornography production where the offender uses force to compel a minor victim to produce sexually explicit images or video through threats or coercion.”

After they get the pictures, they will demand even more photos or even ask for money. They will threaten to distribute the pictures to friends, classmates and family members if they don’t get what they want. I also sat down with a local school resource officer who has heard from victims of this crime.

“I have worked with a case where a young female from a school had sent a nude picture to someone in a group chat,” said Officer Charles Calloway, School District 2 SRO, Colorado Springs Police Department. “In that (case), that person requested more (photos) and threatened that they would send those pictures to everyone in her chat group, family, friends and things of that nature.

“In that chat group, she had a friend that was upset, and she wanted to protect her friend. She tried to tell that person to stop doing it. He ends up private messaging her and saying, ‘Well, if you send me nude pictures of you, I’ll leave your friend alone.’ So, the picture was sent and now he’s telling her, ‘Send me more or I’m going to do this to you.’ So, it ends up multiplying victims in that situation there.”

The FBI warns this can be really hard on children who are the victims of this crime, because they feel shameful and scared. Caregivers should understand how the crime works and talk with their kids about online safety.

“Any children that use the internet are potential victims. This can be online chatrooms, it can be gaming websites, instant messaging,” Michalek said. “The subjects of this crime, they try to pretend to be kids to lure folks in, so they may come across as being of the same age or the same geographical location.”

Be selective about what you share online. Block any messages you receive from strangers. Always be suspicious if you meet someone in an online chatroom.

“It’s important for parents and kids to understand that once you transmit something online, you lose control of it. And in this particular type of crime we’re seeing sometimes kids are being videoed without their knowledge,” Michalek said. “So, if you have a webcam, to put a cover over that. Be very conscious of your online activity.

“We are seeing a significant increase in grooming and sextortion behavior, particularly financially motivated sextortion, both nationwide and in this area. In fact, FBI Denver, which covers the (states) of Colorado and Wyoming, has seen a 400% increase in our complaints over the past year.”

You can report this crime to local law enforcement and to the FBI. Find more information at FBI.gov and on kktv.com.

Click here to read the original column on gazette.com.