Federal law enforcement officials are warning parents about a relatively new extortion tactic that criminals are using to prey upon children.
Three federal law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children issued a public safety alert Tuesday regarding a national increase in “sextortion” crimes.
The schemes often involve fraudulent social media accounts manipulating teens into sending sensitive images of themselves to the extortionists.
The FBI has reason to believe that young boys are being increasingly targeted in the schemes, according to KHON-TV.
As many as 3,000 victims have been targeted in the scams this year alone — with authorities having connected more than a dozen suicides to the phenomenon.
A California man was arrested this week in connection to a sextortion scheme that led to a 17-year-old boy’s death earlier this year, according to CNN.
Boys between the ages of 14-17 are often victimized in the schemes, in which accounts that represent themselves as attractive females request compromising images from the targets, according to the Department of Justice.
The fraud operations often begin on internet platforms that impressionable teenagers tend to use — such as online games and social media.
After the teens have sent the images to the accounts, the scammers threaten to release them to the victim’s family and peers.
These predators demand that the victims give them money through payment apps — often going on to release the images in question even after the boys give them what they want.
They’ve become disturbingly effective at manipulating children, according to FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall.
“They try to hide behind the anonymity of the internet, but the FBI is not going to let them prey on our children.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is warning parents that these predators rarely cease exploiting the victim after receiving money.
Instead of cooperating, they’re urging parents to immediately notify law enforcement of the situation.
The federal government is urging parents to educate themselves on the risks of online exploitation.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations division has a tip line prepared to file reports of online child exploitation — available 24 hours a day at 1-866-347-2423.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.