Children Targeted on Social Media for Sex in Dangerous New Scam

Parents and children alike need to be alert when using the Internet

Children Targeted on Social Media for Sex in Dangerous New Scam
Image: Pexels
September 20, 2016

Senior citizens are not the only population particularly vulnerable to scammers.

A dangerous new scam known as "sextortion" is targeting children using the Internet. Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of the danger to their children.

The scam works like this: the scammer, who is frequently (but not always) a pedophile, will contact a child on social media or in a chat room. They pretend to be a child of the same age, though most of the time one of the opposite sex.

They develop an online relationship with the child, then ask him or her to send a sexually-revealing photograph of him or herself. If the child complies, the scammer then drops the disguise and threatens to expose the child's actions—technically the child may have broken laws on child pornography—unless the child does what the scammer wants.

These demands may be to send additional and even more explicit photographs or even to meet the scammer in person for a sexual encounter.

"It's not uncommon, it's something that we see every day and it's something that's concerning because it can inflict a tremendous amount of damage on a child," said Michelle DeLaune, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Federal law enforcement officers are increasing their efforts both to stop the crime and to educate parents and children about it.

According to the FBI, children need to know that these scammers and predators tend to spend time in chat rooms in order to make contact with victims. If a young person posts or live-streams any kind of sexually-explicit image or video of him or herself, the predator may record it. Often they will even hack into the child's device and access the camera as well as files.

The agency also recommends that parents of teenagers—especially under-age teenagers—talk to their kids about the danger to ensure that they understand how dangerous it is to send sexually explicit images of themselves—and anyone else—over the Internet.

In addition, children should also be taught how to make their devices secure from hackers. They need to know to never open an email attachment from a stranger and to cover the camera on their computer with a piece of tape when they are not using it.

The most important thing children should know, however, is that if he or she falls for the sextortion threat, he or she should tell an adult. It might make the child less likely to fall even deeper into the scam if he or she knows in advance that a parent or guardian will be understanding and helpful if such a situation should occur.

Consumers who have fallen victim to sextortion scams are strongly encouraged to contact the FBI at (800) 225-5324.