“Sextortion” is a crime exclusive to the digital age, says USA Today. Predators pretend to be teens on social media and gaming sites. They befriend young people, gain their trust and entice them to send lewd photos of themselves. Then they use the photos to extort more and more illicit images. Complaints about online enticement of children are climbing. The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which helps state and local law enforcement agencies fight online child pornography, says the number of complaints to its 61 offices nationwide has grown from 5,300 in 2010 to 7,000 in 2013.
The crime has serious, even deadly, ramifications for children, say the parents of some who were victims. The increase in sextortion cases has led authorities to educate parents and teens about online safety. Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has started a program called iGuardian in which agents visit elementary, middle and high schools. They use real examples to warn kids never to send nude photos of themselves electronically or share identifying information such as their school or address. “Predators used to stalk playgrounds. This is the new playground,” says Brock Nicholson, HSI agent in Atlanta. “I would argue that this is an epidemic and people have no idea.”