The FBI is issuing a national public safety alert after what they describe as “an explosion” of incidents involving children and teens being coerced to send sent explicit sexual images of themselves online and then being extorted for money.

The FBI in New Jersey first warned about sextortion schemes that were targeting teen boys back in April, but with kids home for Christmas they have now put out a safety alert because the problem is escalating.

According to Mike Ratta, the assistant special agent-in-charge of the FBI in New Jersey, a large percentage of sextortion schemes originate outside of the United States, primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

Deadly consequences

Over the past year,  law enforcement has received more than 7,000 reports of online sexual extortion across the country, and 11 teen boys have taken their own lives.

“Your whole world is collapsing on you if something like this happens," Ratta said. "Think about a 15-year-old or 16-year-old trying to deal with that, trying to mitigate that, trying to fix the situation.”

Posing as girls

In many cases, perpetrators pose as teen girls on social media sites, strike up conversations with teen boys, then ask them to send explicit sexual pictures of themselves.

When the photos are received, the bad actors threaten to post the pics online or send them to all of the boys' social media contacts, and they demand money not to do so.

“The first line of defense in something like this, in the targeting of children, are the parents, we want to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on in the world," Ratta said.

He said it’s important for parents to sit down with their kids and “talk about what could happen. I don’t like to use the term 'scared straight,' but to provide your kids with some examples of what can happen with irresponsible social media use.”

sam thomas GettyImages
sam thomas GettyImages

Lack of control

Ratta said that "this is one of those issues that’s very, very difficult for parents to control."

In addition to discussing this issue with your kids, he said “we should be monitoring all computers, all tablets, all phones that our children have access to. We need to monitor our child’s social media accounts.”

He said parents need to remember “social media accounts are public sometimes. A child predator can use that information to groom and threaten your child.”

He noted many kids spend long hours online, which makes them susceptible to sextortion.


Ratta said the goal is to prevent sextortion from happening but if it does take place “we want victims to be able to come forward to their parents, and we want their parents to be able to come forward to us.”

You can contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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