FBI Warns Parents & Kids About New Way Online Predators Are Targeting Young People

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “It was pure business, it felt like. It was an exchange. I gave him the pictures and I got to keep my reputation,” explains sextortion victim Ashley Reynolds. She’s now 20, but when she was 14, she was terrorized online by a man who demanded sexual photos of her, or else. Reynolds says, “I never wanted to send them or give him what he wanted, but I wanted my freedom.”

Now, the FBI has noticed a new trend in online sextortion crime. “Rather than the offenders demanding more inappropriate photos from children, they’re actually asking for money, and extorting them, almost like a ransom,” explains FBI Public Information Officer Shelley Lynch.

The FBI says now, the criminals are targeting young boys more than they are girls. Lynch says, “The children believe that they are talking to another child, a girl. They share photos then realize its an adult demand payment or release photos online and tag parents, etc. These victims are frightened, they don’t know what do to, and many times they continue to pay. We’re now hearing from parents whose children have paid the ransom 2 or 3 times.”

She goes on to say, “We’ve had children take their lives. It’s serious.”

The FBI wants parents to talk to their kids. Go through their social media friends lists with them. Ask if they’ve ever met them in real life. If not? Block them.

Reynolds is telling her story now to encourage other people to speak out. She remembers how it felt to finally tell her parents and ask for help. She says, “Just knowing that someone else knows, that someone else is aware, that someone else knows what I’ve been doing, it’s just bricks off my back.”

If convicted, these criminals could get life behind bars. The FBI says in the past six months they’ve had 29 sextortion cases in North Carolina. In 23 of them, the criminal demanded payment. This is happening across the country.

Another a red flag to look out for: tell your kids to refuse any requests from online “friends” to move to a different app that has end-to-end encryption.