SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — What starts off as an innocent friend request from a fellow teenager can quickly turn into a conversation with someone pretending to be someone they are not. Kids and teens are being targeted by a dangerous scam online called sextortion, a crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material if one does not provide them with money.
“A majority of them are teenage boys being friended by an attractive female out of the blue,” said Sergeant Garrick Nugent with the San Diego Police Department. He says what appears to be an attractive female will send a child an inappropriate image and ask for one in return.
“They start demanding more and more and when the kids refuse to do so, that’s when the threats start,” said Sgt. Nugent.
Sergeant Nugent is the Task Force Commander with Internet Crimes Against Children, a group of detectives who investigate offenders who use the Internet and other online communication systems to sexually exploit children.
Many pay up because they don’t want to pay the price of humiliation. The trend is nothing new. The previous targets were young girls, but there has been a shift to teenage boys as police say they are easier to coerce.
“This is probably the fastest growing crime in the world that nobody knows about,” said Stephen Peek.
He helped produce the documentary Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic which is an investigation into the world of online grooming, a present-day reality for one in seven children online. He and his wife Maria Peek are parents of two teenage girls, the target demographic for this film. They worked closely with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children who run a cyber tip line.
“I always thought the predator was some creepy dude that still lived in his mom’s basement. In this film, this is a Top Gun fighter pilot and a Naval Academy graduate. We realized that the perpetrators come from all walks of life,” said Peek.
The FBI and local law enforcement warn parents to be on the lookout for predators and to have conversations with their kids. “It’s very important to tell them you aren’t going to be in trouble. We will not take away your phone, but we will help you through this,” said Peek.
If you have questions about Internet Crimes Against Children, prevention or suspicions, contact the SDICAC Task Force at 858‑715‑7100. For more information on the film Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic, click here.
At CBS 8, we are always Working for You and our San Diego community. If there is something you would like us to investigate, please share your idea here or email us at email@example.com.
WATCH RELATED: Cyber warnings for parents | Predators target kids through online games (November 2022)