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'Sextortion' Cases On Rise; Law Enforcement Offers Tips To Parents, Teens

BROWARD (CBSMiami) – It started on Snapchat. Investigators with the Broward Sheriff's Office say a 14-year-old Broward girl struck up a friendship with a 18-year-old man in December 2018.

Then, things turned criminal, according to Sgt. Thomas McInerney with the Broward Sheriff's Office.

"He was able to access her online account which had a file which saved some personal pictures," McInerney said.

BSO says Christopher Scott found a password-protected, unpublished provocative photo of the girl in a file in her account and Scott tried to convince her to send him more. McInerney says the messages between Scott and the victim — which are detailed in Scott's arrest report —give a glimpse into how "sextortion" crimes work when a suspect tries to coerce a victim into sending them sexually explicit pictures or videos, money or to engage in sexual acts.

"…pls though" Scott said according to the arrest report.

"No thanks" the victim replied.

"Pls" said Scott.

"No" said the victim.

"Fine im exposing" Scott said.

"Exposing what" the victim asked.

"Ur pics" Scott replied.

Later in the conversation, BSO says Scott told the victim.

"We don't have to talk"

"Just like show"

"and it will be fast"

"and I will delete everything"

McInerney said this is typical of people who attempt to prey on children or vulnerable people online.

"He kept wearing her down, wearing her down and she kept saying no," McInerney said. "At one point he tried to use that photo from her account to try to exploit her to make her send that picture to him."

BSO says the victim never sent Scott a photo and the pair never even met. However, investigators say Scott did try to shame her online.

"He did in fact try to exploit her by putting her picture out there on some social media platforms," McInerney said. "Some of her friends saw it so she was embarrassed with that obviously."

But the victim did do one important thing, McInerney said. She told her mother what happened.

"She had the courage to talk to her mom and her mom had the courage to call law enforcement and get us involved," he said.

Detectives arrested Christopher Scott. When looking at the Facebook and Apple records, investigators determined that "Scott is not only the person engaging in the extortion of the child victim, but also the person who without permission/authorization accessed the victim's Instagram account," according to the arrest report. Detectives allege that "(Scott) offered to pay her $300 to watch him (perform a sex act) through a Snapchat video call."

His attorney, Marc Zee, did not want to comment on the case but said Scott has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

BSO believes Scott may have preyed on other underage girls and they are working to determine if additional criminal charges should be filed. Investigators are "working to obtain identification of approximately 20 additional potential 'sextortion' victims related to Christopher Scott." BSO says the victims are believed to be from the Cooper City area, many of which are believed to be under the age of 18. Detectives believe Scott used "numerous Snapchat accounts" to video chat with the victims. BSO is asking for anyone who thinks their child may have been a victim to contact Det. Nick Masters at 954-888-5264.

Scott's case is just one of several recent cases in Broward County.

"It's a very significant problem," McInerney said. "Exploitation of children online is a huge problem today."

In early October, federal prosecutors announced the conviction of Joseph Isaiah Woodson, Jr. for sextorting "Numerous minor females across the country to engage in sexually explicit conduct…using the camera on their cellular telephones."The feds said several of Woodson's victims were in Broward County. Woodson faces at least 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in December.

Experts say there are some important lessons for parents to think about when their kids communicate on social media or through email or text. First, remind kids to try to avoid communicating with strangers. People might not be who they say they are. Second, make sure kids do not share their login information for social media apps with anyone. Third, kids should limit the amount of personal information they share online. Fourth, parents should remind kids to never send provocative photos to anyone because you never know who might see those photos or where the photos might wind up.

Once that picture's out there it can be used against them in many different ways," McInerney said. "You can't get it back. Once it's out there, it's out there forever."

In Broward and nationally, McInerney said they are seeing more and more of these types of cases and he believes there are far more that they don't hear about.

"A lot of 'sextortion' goes unreported because the victims are just too scared to tell somebody," he explained.

It's a big enough problem that the FBI recently launched a sextortion awareness campaign with a poster being placed in some schools with the hashtag "Stop Sextortion."

McInerney said 'sextortion' cases are serious and can create long-lasting problems for victims.

"The trauma the victims go through can be extreme," he said. "The embarrassment, the fear of that. A kid can't handle that and what these suspects are doing to them is very serious and in the state of Florida, it's a felony crime."

Experts also offer some additional important advice for parents:

Stay involved with your kids and maintain open lines of communication with them.

Try to keep up with new social media apps that your children might be using.

Have access to your child's phone or tablet.

Know all of your child's social media passwords.


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