65% of Teenagers Are Targets of ‘Sextortion’ Schemes

Almost two-thirds of teenagers globally have been targeted for “sextortion” schemes by criminals seeking to pressure victims into sexual activity or extort money, according to recent research.

Sixty-five percent of Generation Z teens and young adults have been targets of “catfishing” scams across popular social media platforms or had their personal data hacked by criminals, according to a June 21 report by Snapchat’s parent company Snap Inc. and published by the WeProtect Global Alliance.

“In both scenarios, the resulting photos and videos were then used to threaten or blackmail the young people, with abusers demanding money, gift cards, more sexual imagery, or other personal information in supposed exchange for not releasing the material to the young person’s family and friends,” the report said.

Catfishing refers to pretending to be someone else to find victims to exploit online.

According to the FBI, sextortion begins when a predator reaches out to a young person online through gaming sites, dating apps, or social media accounts.

The predator then acts like someone in the age group of the minor who is interested in beginning a relationship or is offering something of value. The adult can use inducements like gifts or money and other methods to get the young person to send sexually explicit images or videos.

The predator then asks for more such content. When the child refuses, the criminal can threaten to publish the content in their possession online or warn them about other harms they can inflict, pressuring the victims to send more explicit images and videos.

The Snap Inc. study surveyed over 6,000 respondents from six nations, including the United States. Seventy-one percent of respondents who got trapped in a catfishing scheme were asked to share intimate imagery or personal info. While a net 31 percent shared intimate imagery, 30 percent revealed their personal information

Twenty-five percent of the victims provided private information as well, which refers to details about their family and friends.

“Scammers may not be looking solely for immediate financial (or other) return from the target. Rather, their goal might be to widen their net to ensnare more people or to try to entice others for sexual relationships or other interactions,” the report said.(…)

According to a December 2022 press release by the FBI, law enforcement had received more than 7,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors in the past year. This resulted in at least 3,000 victims, mostly boys, and over a dozen suicides.