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Financial sextortion "a growing crisis"


The most likely place a predator will target children is while they’re:

  • A.)    hanging in the food court at a busy shopping mall.
  • B.)    shooting hoops at a playground.
  • C.)    riding their bike through a neighborhood.
  • D.)    chatting on their computer at home.

The answer, by far, is D. Chances are much greater that a predator will gain access to children inside their homes – not outside. Predators are increasingly preying on children through their computers and phones. They don’t need a key to get in, just a digital device. Those same parents who know how quickly panic can set in when they lose sight of their child while out in public are often immune to the dangers lurking under their own roofs.

Last year at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), our CyberTipline received more than 80,000 reports of online enticement of children, including an alarming and relatively new type of crime: financial sextortion. Already this year, the number of reports of financial sextortion have more than doubled to 20,000 despite a rare National Public Alert in late December last year made jointly by the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and NCMEC.

“This is a growing crisis, and we’ve seen sextortion completely devastate children and families,” said Michelle DeLaune, NCMEC’s president and CEO. “As the leading nonprofit focused on child protection, we’ve seen first-hand the rise in these cases worldwide. The best defense is to talk to children about what to do if they or a friend are targeted online. We want everyone to know help is available.”

These online predators, who often have multiple victims, are targeting teenage boys because it’s an easy – and fast – way to get money. But the crime has taken an enormous toll on victims, often causing acute stress and shame. Tragically, it’s already resulted in more than a dozen suicides that law enforcement has been able to link to sextortion.

Initially, predators were primarily using sextortion to ensnare young girls to produce explicit videos or photos of themselves. They’d approach children online through social media or gaming platforms and invite them to chat. After they gained their “trust” through attention and flattery – and possession of their images – they’d blackmail them by threatening to share them with the victim’s friends, family and classmates unless they sent them even more explicit images.

Then last year, we began to see a change in the primary motivation for sextortion, although girls are still being targeted. It shifted from a sexual to a financial one, with predators sextorting victims for money, most often teenage boys ages 15 to 17 but some as young as nine. Financial sextortion follows an extremely aggressive timeline with online predators posing as girls of a similar age and using fake accounts to target victims. Teenage boys let their guard down, believing they may have met an attractive romantic partner.

Before long, however, they realize they’ve been duped. They’re not chatting with a girl at all. They’re being financially sextorted – blackmailed – for hundreds of dollars, sometimes much more, to prevent the predator from sharing their images online. Most don’t have that kind of money, of course, but will empty out their savings accounts from summer jobs or hand over gift cards they’ve received. And the sextortion often doesn’t stop there; predators frequently come back for more.

Sometimes it leads to suicide. Those victims who took their own lives felt they were trapped with nowhere to turn. Others have become withdrawn, depressed or resorted to self-harm when their images were shared online – or live in constant fear that they will be. They worry the explicit images could destroy their reputations and their chances of getting into college or being recruited for the military.

Last year, 17-year-old Jordan DeMay, a popular athlete at a Michigan high school, was chatting with someone he thought was a girl on Instagram who seemed to know some of his friends. Before long, the friendly chat took an abrupt turn, when the person he was messaging with, actually a man, suddenly demanded that Jordan pay up to keep his intimate photos a secret. When he protested that he didn’t have that kind of money, the man pushed Jordan into killing himself. Jordan was one of dozens of victims targeted by two brothers who were recently extradited from Nigeria and charged in his case. 

child holding smart phone that lists tips to take if sextorted

A NCMEC sextortion poster

After just a smattering of reports to our CyberTipline in 2021, there was a surge in reports of financial sextortion last year, according to Hayley Elizondo, who oversees reports made by the public. Already this year through October, she said, the number of reports made by electronic service providers and the public has more than doubled and the message to teenage boys has been consistent from blackmailers: “I’m going to ruin your life, I’m going to make this go viral.”

Even if targeted boys won’t take explicit images of themselves and share them, predators will sometimes photoshop the teen’s face onto someone else’s body and threaten to share those online, Hayley said. Above all, she said, even if teenagers have made a choice they regret, they need to understand the blackmailer is to blame, not them, and they should:

  • Stop engaging with the blackmailer; cooperation rarely stops the crime.
  • Block the suspect – but DON’T delete their profile or messages because they can be helpful in stopping the blackmailer.
  • Report the account through the platform’s safety feature, to police and NCMEC’s CyberTipline at
  • Go to Take it Down at for help removing images from the internet.

Financial institutions, along with credit card and gift card companies, have been working with law enforcement, but it’s difficult to block payments in real time. Law enforcement alerts businesses when a suspect is identified and has accepted payments in this manner. Financial sextortion has become somewhat of a cottage industry with many criminal enterprises linked to West African nations, notably Nigeria, underscoring the global reach of the crime.

Despite the escalating numbers, Hayley said, there’s some evidence that teenagers are becoming aware of this relatively new scam and taking steps to stop it. One teenager was on his computer in the middle of the night when it happened to him, said Hayley. Realizing he was being financially sextorted, he woke up his mom, who immediately called 911. Police came to the home and showed the family how to make a report to the CyberTipline, then how to utilize Take it Down to help remove or stop the online sharing of the teen’s images.

There’ve been other encouraging signs. Another teenager took matters into his own hands, shutting down the person trying to blackmail him: “Go get a real job!”


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