Sheriff Tony: New Cybercrime Predators Targeting Our Youth

Sheriff Gregory Tony

Sheriff Gregory Tony

A Message from Sheriff Gregory Tony:

Do you know who your children are talking to online? A new cyber-criminal enterprise is on the rise, inflicting emotional anguish and financial damage on victims.

Sextortion is a cybercrime where predators use social media networks, apps, or gaming platforms to establish contact and build relationships with their victims. Posing as a teen, the predator pretends to spark romantic interest in the victim, who is often a teen themselves and manipulates them into sharing explicit photographs or videos. The new “friend” then threatens to expose them and share these photos with their family and friends unless they send money.

Unlike traditional sextortion, where predators blackmail victims into providing additional sexual images, financial sextortion involves blackmailing the victim into sending them money. Despite the amount the victim pays, it is never enough, and the criminal’s scheme continues.

Sextortion can affect anyone; however, predators mainly target young boys between the ages of 14-17. According to the South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Commander, Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) Sergeant Thomas McInerney, “Teenage boys are particularly vulnerable because, unlike their female counterparts, they are less likely to report this type of blackmail and are often too embarrassed to tell a trusted adult.”

The statistics are startling. New research by Snap Inc., owner of the social media app Snapchat, shows that approximately 65% of teen social media users said they or their friends were either “catfished,” tricked into a friendship or relationship by someone with a fake identity, or their private information, including explicit photos, was stolen from their online accounts. One-third of those targeted admitted to sending explicit images.

The emotional damage inflicted by this crime can be devastating. Victims who fall prey to these criminals can experience severe emotional distress and humiliation. In 2022 alone, more than a dozen sextortion victims around the country died by suicide, and multiple victims took their lives within hours of being sextorted. Aside from the emotional harm, sextortion can also cause significant financial strain. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported the economic losses related to sextortion totaled more than $13.6 million in 2021. Due to the underreporting of this crime, the number of suicides and total financial losses are estimated to be greater.

BSO is committed to doing all we can to find and stop these criminals and bring them to justice. The South Florida ICAC Task Force, hosted by BSO, uses every means available to track down these predators and help victims recover their lives. Unfortunately, because much of the criminal activity originates outside the United States, the quest for justice is an arduous process.

In an effort to stop victimization, the best method is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The BSO ICAC Task Force is teaming up with Broward County Public Schools to launch an educational campaign to connect with students and provide vital information to help them in making informed online decisions.

Parents and caregivers should also do their part by monitoring what their children are doing online, checking who they are communicating with, and having conversations regarding online safety. A list of helpful tips and important resources is available at www.sheriff.org/Sextortion.

By staying informed, vigilant, and proactive, we can combat sextortion and help create a safer digital landscape for today’s youth.

Service Equals Reward

Sheriff Gregory Tony

Certain Broward cities like Coconut Creek, Hallandale Beach, Pembroke Pines, Sunrise, Plantation, Davie, Margate, Miramar, Lauderhill, Lighthouse Point, and Coral Springs maintain their police departments; however, BSO does provide communications and dispatch services to the following cities: Central Broward, Cooper City, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, Ft Lauderdale-Hollywood Int’l Airport, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Lauderdale Lakes, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Parkland, West Park, Pompano Beach, Port Everglades, Tamarac, Weston, and unincorporated West Broward.

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