DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Criminals are targeting your children, threatening them in ways that experts say has already led to a number of suicides. Now with summer in full swing, the FBI is worried that even more young people could fall victim.
The scam is called sextortion. Criminals convince victims to send compromising photos, then threaten to release the images if ransom isn't paid. Dallas FBI agent Jim Dwyer says the scam can unfold at lightning speed.
"We've seen where it goes from initial meeting to pictures being sent inside of an hour," said Dwyer. "And then they're almost immediately hit with a request for financial compensation."
The number of sextortion-related complaints has tripled in the last year, and it's happening on virtually every popular platform -- from social media sites like Snapchat and Instagram -- to games like Roblox and Minecraft.
Dwyer says the biggest target right now, is teenage boys. Most victims are between 14- and 17-years-old, though he's seen cases involving kids as young as eight.
"There are people out there who are looking to take advantage of them and don't care about their safety or their life, for a very little amount of money," Dwyer said.
Experts say the scheme is especially dangerous to teenagers whose brains are still developing. They can't see past that moment of shame, and often they will erase the evidence out of embarrassment. In some cases, the teenagers commit suicide rather than talk to their parents about what happened.
It happened earlier this year to Ryan Last, a 17-year-old boy in California. The high school senior was visiting colleges and planning for his future when he connected with someone online.
"Somebody reached out to him, pretending to be a girl," said his mother, Pauline Stuart. "And they started a conversation."
The "girl" sent a nude photo and asked for one in return. Last complied and was immediately hit with a $5,000 demand. Last said he could pay $150 from his college savings, but it wasn't enough. The threats continued. Last committed suicide in March.
"How could these people look at themselves in the mirror knowing that $150 is more important than a child's life?" said Stuart. "There's no other word but 'evil' for me."
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