SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The FBI is urging parents to be vigilant of their children’s online activities as authorities have been seeing an increase in sextortion schemes targeted at young children in Utah, Montana and Idaho. The Salt Lake City FBI field office says officials receive at least dozens of sextortion reports every month.

Sextortion is a criminal scheme where an adult contacts a minor through an online platform and coerces them into sending compromising pictures or videos of themself. The adult will then threaten to distribute their explicit materials if they do not send them money.

Young boys between 12 to 17 years old appear to be the most targeted demographic, the FBI says.

According to the FBI, a more prevalent type of sextortion scheme involves the predator posing as a young girl and manipulating a young boy to exchange sexually explicit photos or engage in explicit activity through video calls. The predator will then record the video calls in secret and extort the victim for money.

A mother from Montana told the FBI that her 13-year-old son was a victim of this type of scheme. He was enticed to send compromising photos of himself to an online user who he thought was a young girl. The perpetrator later demanded money from the teen who considered self-harm. The mother was able to get her son help and reported the crime to the FBI.

“I think it’s terrifying that somebody can be the kind of human being that preys on people like that,” she said.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 18,000 sextortion-related complaints in 2021, with a reported loss of over $13.6 million.

“That is only the tip of the iceberg because many of these kinds of cases don’t go reported,” the mother said.

The FBI provides the following tips to protect parents and children against these schemes:

  1. Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
  2. Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  3. Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
  4. Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and that person asks you to start talking to them on a different platform.
  5. Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:

  1. Contact your local FBI field office, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost).
  2. Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
  3. Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.