Robert Dion Ables knew how to sound like a teenage girl. That, a smartphone and a social media app were all he needed to trick a 14-year-old Canadian girl into sending him sexually explicit photos of herself. If she refused to send more, Ables told the girl he would post her photos on her Facebook page. “Sextortion” is a disturbing cybercrime, and the Justice Department has called it “by far” the most significant growing threat to children, the Dallas Morning News reports. A federal judge sentenced Ables to 80 years in prison in July. At least two other North Texas men have recently been convicted of sextortion-related crimes in federal court.
Blackmailers typically pose as children on social media sites or a messaging app like Kik. The local cases, like others nationwide, have involved multiple victims. Experts say smartphones and social media apps are behind the alarming rise in such crimes. Federal prosecutors and judges in Texas are showing little mercy toward offenders, many of whom are spending decades behind bars. Carl Rusnok of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Dallas said adults study and practice for years to write like teenagers and children, an essential skill in pulling off sextortion schemes. “Children can be lured into these situations by professionals who know how to do this,” he said. “And then they’re blackmailed into showing more and more compromising photos.” Getting children to come forward is not always easy. Many boys victimized in one Texas case were too embarrassed to report the crimes, authorities said. Other child victims suffer from anxiety and depression, and have dropped out of school, cut themselves or killed themselves or attempted suicide.