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Expert warns of growing social media 'sextortion' schemes targeting boys

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A former Snapchat employee says “sextortion” schemes, which are becoming increasingly common on social media platforms, can have a “severe” impact on minors using those apps.

The FBI defines sextortion as a “serious crime” in which perpetrators threaten to expose a victim’s sensitive or private information — including nude photos — in exchange for money or more sexually explicit material.

“The potential harm, especially as it relates to minors, is severe,” the former employee, who spoke on the condition on anonymity to protect his career, said. ” … We’ve seen thousands of reports this year. But … the ratio of reported to not reported is pretty high. Probably less than 5% of this is actually reported.”

A bad actor posing as someone else online — particularly as a young, beautiful woman from the United States or Western Europe — will send messages or friend requests to numerous potential targets and then strike up conversation. Once the perpetrator establishes trust with a victim, they convince that victim to share nude images.

“The bad actors don’t care about the means that they use. They’re just trying to get money.”

— Former Snapchat employee

Once the images are sent, the perpetrator will screenshot them. Snapchat alerts users when other users take screenshots of their messages or photos, but bad actors use an app or another phone to capture the nude image so they don’t get caught.

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In some cases, perpetrators will paste the victim’s nude image on a fake “FBI Most Wanted” poster that lists the victim’s name and nude image under a description for a wanted child rapist or murderer, the former employee explained.

Such abuse has a particularly strong impact on victims between the ages of 14 and 16 who do not know what to do or where to turn for help when they do not want their parents or friends to know they shared nude images with a stranger.

Who is impacted by sextortion?

Sextortion sometimes results in suicide or self-harm, particularly among teenagers.

“This is almost 100% of this is from Nigerian users.”

The victims are “always young men,” he added later. 

A 12-year-old boy looks at a iPad screen

Most perpetrators the employee witnessed on Snapchat targeted young men for money, and most were operating these scams out of Nigeria.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

“They’re targeting young men because young men are the most likely to fall for this type of scheme,” the former employee explained. “Also, young men are not used to being victims being targeted like this.”

“Young men are not used to this at all. It’s extremely new phenomenon.”

— Former Snapchat employee

“They’re so easily convinced to do something like this,” the former employee said.

On the other hand, girls more frequently become victims of sextortion schemes in which perpetrators demand more sexually explicit content from victims. In other words, instead of threatening to expose victims’ nude images for money, they threaten to expose them in exhange for more nude photos. 

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“The crazy thing is, I didn’t even realize what had happened to me until earlier this year. I wasn’t aware of these romance scams situations that happen. Apparently, it’s on the rise now,” she said.

About a year after they began communicating, George Anthony reached out to the victim’s friend and shared a nude photo the victim had shared with him, asking for the friend to put him back in touch with the victim or else he would share her image elsewhere.

“I have more people I can show that [to] even guys,” he wrote to the victim’s friend in a screenshot shared with Fox News Digital, adding, “So just tell her to fix things up with me.”

Jordan Demay

Three Nigerian men were arrested in connection with the sextortion of 100 young men and the 2022 suicide of 17-year-old Jordan DeMay. (handout)

The main suspect in his death, 22-year-old Samuel Ogoshi, is one of three men from Lagos arrested earlier this month for allegedly hacking Instagram accounts and sexually extorting, or “sextorting,” more than 100 young men online, including DeMay. Ogoshi allegedly posed as a young woman under the username “dani.robertts.” 

The account was real but had been hacked and sold to Ogoshi, who used the profile to coerce young men into sending explicit photos of themselves, authorities said. He allegedly used the photos as leverage for money, according to the FBI.

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Part of the issue in capturing these bad actors, the former Snapchat employee said, is the fact that Nigerian law enforcement lacks the resources to follow up complaints from U.S. tech companies and the FBI.

“We would aggressively report [sextortion cases] to U.S. authorities, to the FBI, and we would expect to see like some pretty severe consequences,” he said. “But it’s almost not worth reporting. The platforms do it for legal obligations, and also because … people like me and everybody I worked with who are chasing this stuff down are pissed off about it and want to go through all the steps, so that if, by some miracle, Nigerian authorities do get their hands on it, they can actually do something. “

He continued: “But, it’s pretty much understood that when we report this stuff, it’s not going anywhere. The FBI didn’t have enough leverage with Nigerian authorities. Nigerian authorities don’t have enough resources to do it, anyway.”

Jordan DeMay headshot

Jordan Demay began chatting with someone he thought was a woman on Instagram under the username “dani.robertts.”  (handout)

“Just start up some sort of public campaign and say, hey, if somebody you don’t know asks for nude image, this is what sextortion is,” he said. “These are the signs of it. And please be aware of it.”

The Snap spokesperson said the social media app is creating an education, in-app series called Safety Snapshot, will will cover a range of issues including sextortion, sexting and the consequences of creating and sharing nude photos on the platform, as well as child online grooming and trafficking. 

The former Snapchat employee believes instances of sextortion are happening “billions of times a year” on social platforms.

“When you give them the money, they don’t go away.”

— Former Snapchat employee

Children should first tell their parents when they fall victim to a sextortion scheme. Next, victims should block bad actors and report instances of the crime to local law enforcement. 

Minors can report sextortion to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which can help take down explicit photos posted online.

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