This week’s Washington Post article about the teenage boy sextortion scam by Chris Moody is all I’ve been thinking about. In part because I know a kid who was targeted in this way, and it was a terrible situation. But to learn that this is a problem that’s so widespread that thousands of teen boys are being “sextorted” each year?
That blew my mind.
What is the financial sextortion scam?
In short: Teen boys are lured in on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and platforms of all kinds by someone who presents herself as a cute teen girl. The two chat a bit, they hit it off, they flirt, get to know each other, share some personal information, and soon the “girl” asks for a nude photo with his face visible.
Immediately after sending, the boy is met with demands for hundreds or thousands of dollars in a blackmail scheme, or what law enforcement calls “financial sextortion.”
The most tragic cases have devastatingly ended in suicide — 12 in 2022 alone, from the more than 10,000 cases reported. I can’t think of much more terrifying as a parent.
It’s so pervasive, in January of 2023, the FBI issued a National Public Safety Alert on Sextortion Schemes, with subsequent reports released by law enforcement around the globe By July of this year, there had already been 12,500 reports of US sextortion cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
So what can we do as parents?
Fortunately, the article includes a list of steps taken by one of the victim’s’ parents to help protect him.
What do do if your child is a victim of financial sextortion:
Of course, tech safety starts with making sure you talk to your kids about the safe use of social media and technology — talk early and often, even before they have their own phones. It’s also essential that they know they can always always come to you if there’s a problem, a concern, or a question of any kind at all.
However if your child does come to you with an issue like this one, here’s how experts say to handle it:
– Don’t judge your child or attack them; they are the victims here
– Screenshot all chats and evidence of the conversation, even if your child is tempted to delete it.
– Block the account targeting your child
– Report the interaction and account name directly to the trust/safety team on the channel or platform. Meta has a dedicated sextortion hub or report to Snapchat by clicking “Nudity or Sexual Content” then “They Leaked/Are Threatening to Leak My Nudes”
– Lock down all of your child’s social media accounts (or really, have them do it) and comb through it with them to be sure your child personally knows all of their friends/followers.
– Remind them that you love them no matter what, and you’re here to support them through all of this.
It’s a scary world. I get it. These stories are terrifying. But this is an important reminder that we can’t rely entirely on parental controls, monitoring apps, or even banning social media apps in order to keep our kids safe–what matters most is mutual respect and trust with our teens, open conversation we have with them about tech, and helping them learn to manage their own online activity safely with time and practice.
Also, get specific — they should come to us if a “girl” on the internet asks them for nude photos with their face in it. Trust me; real girls don’t want your teen’s nudes.
As we always say in our Out-Tech Your Kids community on Facebook, our kids are growing up in a digital age, and nothing we can do will reverse that. The best we can do is equip our kids to make decisions best them can, and know they can always come to us if something goes wrong. (And yes, I keep repeating this.)
Let’s also remember that kids — even so-called “good kids” — will still make mistakes. It’s not a reflection on your parenting; teens’ brains aren’t fully developed, and they take risks.
Or as as Dr. Ken Ginsburg helped me reframe it, teens are super learners, inclined to push boundaries to gain new experiences and learn new things. Our job is just to help keep them safe as possible, online and off, as they gain those experiences and learn to navigate the world.