Officials warn of 'sextortion' aimed at teens, children

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Officials are sounding the alarm as more and more victims are being coerced into sharing sexually explicit photos online in what is called “sextortion.”

Inside the Bloomington center, U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and a panel of experts raise awareness about sextortion.

“Sextortion is happening at an alarming rate for kids and teens,” MacDonald said.

Sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money. Perpetrators of the crime gain trust by pretending to be someone they're not - much like Anton Martynenko did when he targeted more than 150 children his sextortion scheme.

“They target children and they use the children as targets and they use their friend list as targets as well,” MacDonald said.

Sextortionists lurk in chatrooms and record young people who send or livestream sexually explicit images and videos of themselves. The perpetrator may also threaten to harm your friends or relatives by using information they’ve obtained from your electronic devices unless you comply with their demands.”

The victims are mostly children and teens.

“One in four are age 12 or younger,” MacDonald said. “Twenty-five percent are 12 or under.”

The staggering statistics are a call to action.

“These pics and videos that the perpetrators are asking kids to send are getting more and more egregious,” said Bonnie Fries, Child & Adolescent Forensic Interviewer with the FBI.

To protect your family, the FBI suggests you have early age appropriate conversations with your children, preserve evidence, and don't be ashamed to report any instance of sextortion.

“What’s happening to these victims is a crime, and we really need these reports to stop it,” said Jill Sanborn, special agent in charge of the FBI Minneapolis Division.