UTAH (ABC4) – Do you know who your children may be talking to online?

Federal authorities are warning of an increase in sextortion crimes targeting young boys in Utah.

The Salt Lake City FBI says it’s been receiving a “significant increase” in reports of adults posing as young girls in order to trick young boys in a variety of ways through social media platforms.

Authorities say the culprits’ schemes involve extorting the underage boys after asking them to send sexual images or videos of themselves.

The FBI defines sextortion as a “serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.”

Sextortion crimes can carry heavy penalties including up to life sentences for the offender. Officials say these criminals can have hundreds of victims across the globe.

“To make the victimization stop, children typically have to come forward to someone — normally a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement,” says the FBI. “The embarrassment children feel from the activity they were forced to engage in is what typically prevents them from coming forward.”

Encouraging children who may be victims to come forward could “prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation to that victim and others.”

Some important tips for parents to protect their children from online dangers include:

  • Being selective about what you share online, especially personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator can figure out a lot of information about you and your children.
  • Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  • 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.
  • Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
  • Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

What should you do if you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:

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

“In 2021, the IC3 received over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints, with losses over $13.6 million,” authorities say. “This number reflects all types of sextortion reported, not just this particular scheme.”