Law enforcement authorities warned Minnesota parents about a “significant surge” in sextortion schemes specifically targeting young boys during a press conference Monday.
Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Superintendent Drew Evans said his agency began receiving tips about Minnesota boys “being blackmailed through sextortion schemes a couple of years ago.”
“Since that time we’ve learned of hundreds of additional incidents,” he said.
The crime typically plays out like this: a young boy is befriended online by a criminal posing as an attractive girl. The criminal then convinces the victim to share a sexual image of himself showing his face. Once the image is shared, the criminals immediately demand money or gift cards from the victim, threatening to kill the victim or his loved ones.
“What we’re seeing in Minnesota right now is a significant surge in a different kind of sextortion — sextortion that isn’t about sex; it’s straight up blackmail. The target is most often young boys, anywhere from 10-17 years of age,” said Bob Jacobson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
“The victims of these crimes didn’t break any laws. They were tricked by a ruthless criminal and how it happened doesn’t matter as much as telling a parent or trusted adult does,” he added, noting that some of the victims have also been girls.
According to the BCA, the criminals often reside in West African countries, making the cases difficult to investigate or prosecute. In some cases, they release the photos even after the money is sent.
FBI data shows law enforcement nationwide received more than 7,000 reports of online financial sextortion involving children in 2022, identifying at least 3,000 victims.
The BCA shared a video of a Minnesota mom whose son was entrapped in one of these schemes just a few weeks ago.
“He was so scared and shocked by the whole thing that he couldn’t get the words out,” she said. “What was scary from a parent’s perspective was how they were very, very skilled at getting him to do exactly what they wanted.”
The BCA is now investigating the case.
“If you need help starting that conversation, there are resources available,” Jacobson said. “Having a frank and honest talk with your child could be the difference. This can and is happening to Minnesota families and the consequences can be deadly.”