'Sextortion' scams: Gangs targeting teen boys as cases of online blackmail scheme rise drastically

Sextortion is a problem no parent wants to find their child caught up in.

Now, law enforcement is seeing a new shift in how sextortion happens. It shows gangs targeting adolescent and teen boys instead of girls.

It starts out simple enough. A young boy receives a social media friend request from a cute girl he doesn’t know. But there's much more to that message.

"They’ll do a hundred, 200 friend requests in one single day," said Rich Wistocki, a retired Naperville cybercrime detective.


Wistocki now travels the country talking to students and law enforcement about cyber safety.

"We’re seeing a break right now where gangs all over the country and all over the world are sex trafficking young girls, and their job is to engage boys’ conversations online and in video chat," Wistocki said.

Once the boy and girl are video chatting, Wistocki says the girl takes things a step further.

"Then they ask the kid ‘do you like what you see,’" Wistocki said. "And then they start engaging in sexual activity over a webcam."

"What’s happening in the background, that gang person who has trafficked this young girl: screen capture, screen capture, screen capture," he said.

Wistocki said the young girl will also ask the boy to see his face and his room. Things that will make the boy identifiable.

"In the background, they are copying all of their contact information on their Snapchat and their Instagram," Wistocki said. "So when the sexual activity is done, the gang person comes up on the camera and says now that we have you, you better send us $250 in gift cards."

Wistocki said some boys will go get their parents credit cards so they can send the money to the gang that is sextorting him.

"It’s either being sent to the Philippines, the UK, Russia," Wistocki said.

"The trends we’re seeing are international offenders. Specific to West Africa, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast," said Susan Jensen, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

Jensen investigates child exploitation cases and she’s also seen this new sextortion shift.

"We noticed this probably in January of this year and we’ve really kind of seen it exponentially grow around June," Jensen said. "Our office is receiving leads on a daily basis with individuals who have been exploited."

While it can be difficult to prosecute an overseas offender, Jensen said Homeland Security’s Cyber Crimes Center is working closely with its international field offices and foreign governments to try to make that happen.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

"A lot of what we’re seeing now is Instagram, Snapchat, different social media sites where kids have their profiles that are unblocked," Jensen said. They are not private and then they have their list of friends available for everybody to see as well."

Jensen said making your profile private is one of the biggest steps you can take to protect yourself from sextortion scams. She said it’s one kids don’t often do.

"One of the things we see is kids want to have hundreds of thousands of followers, so they’ll leave their profile open and anybody can friend them," Jensen said.

Jensen and Wistocki said it’s important to send investigators screenshots of everything that transpired, information on where they want the money to go and user ID accounts.

Investigators will use it to send a preservation letter to the social media platform where the sextortion took place. Under certain circumstances, investigators can ask to have the offender account's deactivated.

Lastly, have the technology talk with your kids and let them know what the rules are when using their devices.

"No one has the right to make you do something you are not supposed to do. No one has the right to make you feel bad about yourself. If they’re sextorting you, you need to tell your parents," Wistocki said.

Another important step that our experts recommend parents take is no electronic devices in your kid’s rooms when they go to sleep at night.

If you are thinking about getting your child a cell phone as holiday gift, Wistocki said make it an Android phone because you can monitor it more robustly than other types of phones.

If you think you're a victim of this scam, call your local police department or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.