LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — FBI Little Rock has noted an increase in sextortion schemes targeting children in the northwest Arkansas area.

According to a September 8 release from the Bureau, the FBI and local police in northwest Arkansas have received “numerous reports of predators attempting to coerce young boys into sending sexual videos of themselves,” and then extorting money from these victims.

Here is how this disturbing scheme works, according to the FBI:

  • A predator (posing as a young girl on social media) uses deception and manipulation to convince a young male, usually 13 to 17 years old, to engage in explicit sexual activity over video chat.
  • The video is secretly recorded and saved by the predator.
  • The predator then reveals they have saved the recordings and attempts to extort money from the juvenile victim by threatening to post the videos across various social media platforms.
  • To receive money, the predator may ask for bank account login information or request gift cards.

Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a child by an adult to produce child sexual abuse material (CSAM) carries heavy penalties, including potential life sentences for offenders.

To make the victimization stop, children typically notify someone—normally a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement, according to the FBI. The embarrassment children feel from the activity they were coerced to engage in usually prevents them from asking for help.

Sextortion offenders frequently have dozens of victims around the world, so when a victim comes forward to help law enforcement identify a predator, they are likely preventing “countless future incidents of sexual exploitation,” according to the report.

Here are some tips to protect adults and children online:

  • Parents and children need to be selective about what they share online. If social media accounts are open to everyone, offenders can easily learn about parents and their children, and then use that information for predatory purposes.
  • Be wary of anyone you encounter online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  • Predators can pretend to be anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
  • Be highly suspicious if someone you meet on a game or app asks you to start communicating with them on a different platform.
  • Encourage children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

If you know someone who may be a victim of sextortion in Arkansas:

  • Contact the FBI’s Arkansas Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force at 501-221-9100.
  • Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
  • Tell law enforcement everything about the online encounters. It may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the predator.