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Rise in 'sextortion' of children prompts awareness campaign

Sextortion of children, especially teen boys, prompts awareness campaign
Sextortion of children, especially teen boys, prompts awareness campaign 02:34

FORT LAUDERDALE - A warning for parents from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about the rise in sextortion.

Sextortion or sexual extortion is when a person is convinced to send explicit photos online and then threatened that the images will be made public if the victim doesn't pay up. The NCMEC said they are seeing alarming numbers of cases against children, especially teenage boys. Since 2021, there has been a more than 300 percent rise in cases of online enticement and this kind of harassment.

The NCMEC just released a campaign to bring awareness and combat the issue. The video takes parents through the story of a 15-year-old boy's exploitation online and shows them what starts as what appears to be an online flirtation and then turns into much more.

The issue is getting so bad social media companies are stepping in to try and stop it.

Instagram is now testing out a feature to blur nudity in direct images. The feature will be turned on by default globally for teens under 18. The aim is to stop teens from being targeted in these scary and devastating scams.

"We are responding to calls to reports to children who are being extorted online. We have daily real-life examples of children who are going through horrific experiences. That's why we thought it was so important to create this campaign. To get the attention of parents, to get the attention of adults, so they recognize this new wave of crime facing our kids," says Michelle DeLaune, the president and CEO of the NCMEC.

In Broward County, the sheriff's office teamed up with the school district at the end of last year to bring awareness to the problem. They say they are seeing at least five cases of sextortion a week and think the numbers could be much higher.

There are warning signs. If someone has a strange online profile, asks to move the chat to a different platform, or engages in sexual conversations quickly, they could be a scammer.

To help protect children, parents may want to consider limiting screen time, spot-checking phones, and not allowing internet use overnight. The FBI said the best protection is open lines of communication between children and parents. It's important to let children know the crime is happening and they can always come to an adult for help.

"So it's more important than ever to talk to your kids. Understand what they're doing online and make sure they know they can come to you if something goes wrong because kids can get overwhelmed very easily and they just need a trusted adult to help them out of a situation," said DeLaune.  

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