The FBI and the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations division have reported a significant increase in incidents involving teenage boys being tricked into sending explicit photos and videos of themselves to online scammers, who then attempt to extort money from their young victims. Spokespersons for both agencies, as well as the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where sextortion cases have seen a dramatic increase, have stated that they are currently unaware of gay teenage boys being targeted for what authorities have dubbed “financial sextortion.”
However, a popular dating app for gay men, Grindr, has reported on its website that adult gay men using the app and other gay hookup apps have been targeted for sextortion in ways similar to straight teenage boys. The scammers convince the gay adult men to send explicit photos or videos of themselves, believing they are communicating with someone interested in a potential sexual hookup or relationship. The scammer then uses these images to blackmail the victim into sending large sums of money to prevent the scammer from releasing the photos or videos to the victim’s family, friends, or employer.
In a Scam Awareness Guide on its website, Grindr notes that, unlike potential straight targets for sextortion, some scammers have threatened to out gay men, including bisexual men married to women, by sending their sexually explicit photos or videos to a spouse or other family members. Additionally, some scammers have set up fake profiles as underage individuals and threaten to report the victim to the police for soliciting sex with a minor unless a ransom is paid.
The FBI’s national office in Washington issued a “public safety alert” in December of last year regarding the increasing number of sextortion cases targeting teenage males. According to a press release from the agency, “over the past year, law enforcement has received over 7,000 reports related to the online financial sextortion of minors, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, and more than a dozen suicides.”
“The FBI has seen a horrific increase in reports of financial sextortion schemes targeting minor boys—and the fact is that the many victims who are afraid to come forward are not even included in those numbers,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in the FBI statement. “The FBI is here for victims, but we also need parents and caregivers to work with us to prevent this crime before it happens and help children come forward if it does,”
The FBI states that sextortion schemes occur most often through sites where young people interact with each other such as social media, gaming sites, or video chat applications. The agency also notes that a large percentage of these sextortion schemes originate outside of the United States, primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
The New York Times reached out to Jane Clementi, co-founder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which advocates for programs to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying, targeting LGBTQ youth. Clementi stated that she and her organization, which operates nationwide, were unaware of any specific gay youth or young adults being targeted for sextortion.
“The fact that this is on the rise is very disconcerting and means it needs to have more media coverage to inform youth and their parents about the harms and how to deal with the situation,” she said.