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Family of teen who died by suicide warns of dangers of financial sextortion

Family warns of dangers of financial sextortion
Family of teen who died by suicide warns of dangers of financial sextortion 02:03

Washington — James Woods, a 17-year-old college-bound track star, had just gotten his driver's license and posed for his senior yearbook photo when an online predator targeted him on Instagram. 

James received 200 messages in less than 20 hours, according to his mother, Tamia Woods.   

"It ranged anywhere from 'I own you,' to 'you need to take your own life,'" Woods told CBS News. 

The FBI calls what happened to James financial sextortion.

"Any child can be a victim of this crime," said Abbigail Beccaccio, unit chief for the FBI Child Exploitation Unit. 

It consists of minors being coerced into sharing compromised images of themselves by criminals who are often working together overseas. The coercion can take place on gaming and video-streaming platforms, or instant messaging apps.

"This is a predator that is solely interested in financial gain," Beccaccio said.

Children, some as young as 9 years old, are told to send money, or the photos will be posted online.    

From October 2021 through March 2023, the FBI tracked roughly 12,600 sextortion victims — all of them minors. Since 2021, at least 20 children who were victims of sextortion have died by suicide, according to the FBI, including James Woods.

"The most horrible phone call I've received, that my only child, my no longer here," Tamia Woods said.

The FBI is trying to warn parents and encourage victims to break their silence. In December 2022, the FBI issued an alert about what it described as a "staggering" sextortion scam that had targeted more than 3,000 boys.

That scam typically involved someone posing as a woman using a fake account and enticing the victim into sending explicit material, which the scammer then threatened to release unless the victim sent money or gift card codes.

Beccaccio emphasizes that tips from the public are essential to helping the FBI take action.

"That's the intelligence, that's the information that we have that makes law enforcement have the ability to act," Beccaccio said.        

The Woods family is working to shatter the stigma by sharing their story.

"You know, he was my only child," Tamia Woods said. "And so I have to live through my memories, and that's all I have now, are memories."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children advises parents and children to seek assistance before deciding whether to pay the extortioners.

"Block the suspect but DO NOT DELETE your profile or messages because that can be helpful in stopping the blackmailer," the center advises.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.

For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email

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