NATIONAL (WEHT) – The FBI is issuing a national public safety alert regarding an increase in sextortion schemes.

The United States Attorney’s Office Southern District of Indiana says over the past year, law enforcement agencies have received over 7,000 reports involving at least 3,000 victims, mostly boys. Officials say more than a dozen sextortion victims were reported to have committed suicide and parents and caregivers are asked to educate kids about sextortion to prevent the schemes in the first place.

A news release says sextortion schemes occur online where minors feel most comfortable—using common social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat apps that feel familiar and safe. Officials say on these platforms, predators often use fake accounts and target people. The United States Attorney’s Office Southern District of Indiana says through deception, sextortionists convince the minor to produce an explicit video or photo. Officials say once predators get the images, they often threaten to release the material unless the victim sends more sexually explicit material.

The news release says some criminals demand money or gift cards to keep them from releasing the material in their possession. Officials say often, these predators demand payment through a variety of peer-to-peer payment apps. The news release says in many cases, however, sextortionists release the images even if more material is sent or payments are made.

Officials say the shame, fear and confusion that victims feel when they are caught in this cycle often prevents them from asking for help or reporting the abuse and may drive them towards self-harm. Officials say victims should report the crime by either contacting their local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI or report it online.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has outlined steps people can take if they or their child are a victim of sextortion, including:

  • Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.
  • Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail and continued harassment.
  • Report the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.
  • Block the predator and do not delete the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.
  • Let NCMEC help get explicit images of you off the internet.
  • Visit this website to learn how to notify companies yourself or visit this website to report to us for help with the process.
  • Ask for help. This can be a very complex problem and may require help from adults or law enforcement.
  • If you don’t feel that you have adults in your corner, you can reach out to NCMEC for support at gethelp@ncmec.org or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.

Officials ask for parents to take a moment to learn how sextortion works and how to talk to their children about it. Information, resources, and conversation guides are available at this website.