Queen Creek, AZ

Authorities warn of “sextortion” schemes targeting teens in Queen Creek and statewide

Grace Lieberman

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By Grace Lieberman / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Local law enforcement officials are warning that cases of “sextortion” scams attempting to extort teenage boys are rising.

Phoenix’s bureau of the FBI released a statement last month explaining what sextortion schemes are and methods to protect children. It said that because “schools across Arizona are on summer break and young people have more unsupervised time online,” parents need to take measures to keep kids safe.

“Across the country, the FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them,” the statement said.

In these schemes, adults usually contact minors via games and social media, platforms where kids frequently socialize.

Authorities said that one of the most helpful ways to stop these crimes is for victims to come forward. Many children, however, often feel embarrassed about what’s happened to them.

“The embarrassment children feel from the activity they were forced to engage in is what typically prevents them from coming forward,” the statement said. “Sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims around the world, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify the offender may prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation to that victim and others.”

Special agent Sean Kaul, who heads the FBI’s Phoenix field office, said that stopping crimes like this is difficult, and spreading awareness is the best way to help.

“We completely understand that victims may feel embarrassed and afraid to come forward to report these incidents, but we really encourage victims to notify us so that these predators are held to account for their actions, if possible, and, most importantly, prevented from harming another child,” Kaul said.

Because of advanced technology allowing cybercriminals to cover their tracks, authorities said, reporting is one of the best ways to catch these kinds of predators.

The problem has drawn significant attention in Queen Creek, where police chief Randy Brice said the department has gotten 15 cases of such schemes, including eight cases of sexual exploitation of a minor. He said most victims are under 15 years old.

Brice said that suspects usually ask victims to pay up in Bitcoin, but some used credit cards to make payments. According to Brice, $10,000 was paid to a predator between two credit cards in one case.

Although experts have increasingly drawn awareness to the issue this year, sextortion has been a growing issue locally and nationwide for years.

Several cases and arrests have been reported in Chandler in recent years, and the Chandler police recently assisted in an investigation that led to an arrest in Minnesota.

In 2021, the IC3 reported over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints nationwide, with losses from the schemes reaching over $13.6 million.

The FBI has been running a monthslong awareness campaign about the rise in sextortion crimes after one scheme turned fatal when a California teen died by suicide after being harrassed by predators.

In order to prevent sextortion crimes, the FBI recommends parents protect their children online and educate about safety.

The FBI said to be selective about posting personal information publicly online. Both parents and children can unwittingly give away information predators can exploit.

The bureau also recommended blocking messages from strangers, keeping a healthy level of suspicion for people you play games with and encouraging children to tell adults about suspicious behavior they come across.

For those who think they or someone they know is a victim of sextortion, they should contact their local FBI office, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Victims can also contact local police, and are advised to not delete any contact or evidence related to the crime before it can be reviewed.

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Grace Lieberman is a business, science and technology reporter based in Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix, AZ

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