MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - With summer break in full swing and kids having a lot more free time on their hands, the FBI says sextortion cases are on the rise. In response, the FBI recently launched a national campaign to raise awareness.
Over the last five years, the FBI says prosecutions are up 60%. The agency is seeing more cases targeting kids anywhere from 10 to 17 years old, sometimes as young as 7 years old.
Sergeant Tim Troxell with the Horry County Sherriff’s Office says sextortion can start with a simple friend request from a complete stranger, then trouble can start from there. Children on social media platforms or gaming apps may think they’re only talking with friends, but they could be talking to someone pretending to be their age. Predators then attempt to convince kids to go one step further, like sending naked pictures of themselves and one picture is all it takes. If the child tries to pull away, the extortionist will threaten the victim with exposure of the photos.
Troxell says over time, the demands can escalate which can sometimes lead to sex acts. Many times, victims of a sextortion case do not forward, likely because of fear.
That's why it's important for parents to educate their children early on to know what red flags to look out for when online.
“If they meet some sort of stranger or get a friend request from an unknown profile that seems to have done a little bit of research on that child - knows a lot about their school, their families or friends - and begins to build that contact and that relationship there, that’s a red flag, said Troxell.
If your child has an iPhone and they're in a public setting, they can also be exposed to what's called "Cyber Flashing.”
Here’s how it works. You’re in a public space and a lewd image appears on your phone and you have no idea where it came from or who even sent it to you. It’s done all through the AirDrop feature on Apple products.
The purpose of AirDrop is a convenient way to share pictures or videos with those around you within a 30 foot radius. But what most people don’t know is their AirDrop settings are public, so anyone around you could potentially send you something you don’t want to see. An easy fix to prevent this from happening is by going to your privacy settings on your Apple device and turning it off until you need to use it or set it to your trusted contacts only. That’s why the Horry County Sheriff’s Office says having open conversations with your children about online dangers is key.
"I would have a conversation with your child about what’s appropriate to share on the internet and then I would learn about the social media platforms - requirements to get an image removed once it is taken in and potentially posted,” said Troxell.
Fortunately, the Horry County Sheriff’s Office says there hasn’t been a rise in sextortion cases reported in Horry County.