FBI warns of potential increase in sextortion attempts during holidays

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WITN) – The FBI is warning people that sextortion crimes typically see an increase during school and holiday breaks.

According to the FBI field office in Charlotte, sextortion is when adults pose as teens and manipulate or entice actual teens to send them sexually explicit images, then they threaten to release the pictures or videos online unless the sender gives them additional photos or sends them money.

The FBI says that sextortion cases are skyrocketing across the country, especially when it comes to teenage boys, with the Charlotte office alone showing a 20% increase in cases between 2022 and 2023. Agents say they believe the number is higher because some teens do not report what has happened.

According to agents, coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered child sexual abuse material carries heavy penalties, which can include up to a life sentence in federal prison.

Agents say that the best way to fight sextortion is for children to tell a trusted adult, a parent, a teacher, a caregiver, or law enforcement. While it can be embarrassing for the child, coming forward to help catch the person who is committing the crime may prevent countless other children from being sexually exploited.

“Sometimes we have seen kids stooping into depression, isolating themselves, and committing self-harm, and that is the last thing we want to have happen. Parents need to be intentional with their children when they give them a device. They need to know what that device is, they need to know what applications are on that device, and they need to know who their children are communicating with and explain to them about the dangers,” said Robert M. DeWitt, the special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “Perpetrators understand how to manipulate and communicate with our kids. Again—it’s their full-time job.”

The FBI provides the following tips to protect children online:

  • 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.
  • 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 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 children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

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

  • Contact local law enforcement or the FBI at tips.fbi.gov or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.
  • Do not delete anything on your device before law enforcement can review it.
  • Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender and protect other children.

More information about sextortion can be found at fbi.gov/sextortion