Sextortion is a form of blackmail where criminals lure victims into sending explicit images online and then use the photos to threaten the victim into doing something they don’t want to do, like sending more photos or money. It can happen to people of all ages, but young men and women who may be more susceptible to criminal threats.
Law enforcement agencies across the nation received more than 7,000 reports related to online sextortion of minors and identified at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys. More than a dozen sextortion victims are known to have died by suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, including in Montana.
Sextortion can happen across all platforms that allow people to meet and communicate, including messaging platforms, games, websites, and applications. These crimes often happen when young people believe they are communicating with another person their age who is interested in a relationship or offering something in value in exchange for sexually explicit content. Once predators have one or more videos and/or pictures of the victim, they threaten to share or publish them, threaten violence, or manipulate the victim to share more content. Usually, these crimes cause victims to feel shame, fear, and confusion – which often leads children and teens to avoid asking for help or reporting abuse. It’s also leading to suicide in teens.
In many instances, criminals just want the hundreds or thousands of dollars they can extort from their victims by using the explicit photos they trick their victims into sending, which is called financial sextortion. According to the FBI, there has been an increase in financial sextortion cases that target minor victims. In financial sextortion cases, the criminal will threaten to release the explicit photos they’ve received from the victim unless they’re paid the requested amount. In most instances, the criminal will release the photos regardless of whether they are paid.
The Montana Department of Justice’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force has seen an increase in the number of sextortion cases in recent years. In 2022, ICAC agents received 1,500 cyber tips from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) which includes categories such as sextortion and online enticement. There was an 80 percent increase in tips from 2021 to 2022. To put it in perspective, in 2015 ICAC received 353 tips and there has been an increase every year since. Sextortion cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute given most of the perpetrators live outside of the country, which is why preventative measures and spreading awareness is so important. Once people are aware of sextortion, everyone can work together to stop victims from falling into it.
Under the direction of Attorney General Austin Knudsen, the Montana Department of Justice is committed to raising awareness of the problem of sextortion and stopping the deadly crime. During the 2023 legislative session, Attorney General Knudsen successfully advocated for funding for an additional internet crimes against children investigator who will help combat crimes like sextortion. The Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Commander also travels the state to give presentations to educate parents and students and help keep them safe online.
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MONTANA INTERNET CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN TASK FORCE BACKGROUND:
The Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (MTICACTF) was started in December 2007. Under the program, law enforcement officials conduct statewide proactive and reactive investigations to protect Montana children from online predators. Local agencies receive training on prosecuting computer-related criminal cases and providing public education in their communities. Federal, state, and local prosecutors work together to promote proper legislation, effective prosecution, and sound case law. If you have questions or comments regarding the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force or what it can do for your agency or your community, please contact the Program Coordinator.