NBC 6 Investigators

FBI Warning: Teens Targeted in ‘Sextortion' Schemes

Florida is on track to double the number of reported ‘sextortion’ cases from last year, according to the FBI

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The FBI in Miami is warning parents about an increase in “sextortion” incidents involving children and teens.  

“Typically, in the past we’ve received maybe one ‘sextortion’ complaint a month, now it’s a couple a week,” said Supervisory Special Agent, Christina Bedford from the FBI office in Miami.

The FBI said in most cases, the criminal poses as a child and reaches out to kids through social media or gaming apps, pretending to be romantically interested.

They eventually trick them into sharing explicit photos or videos of themselves. Then, they use those images as leverage to get money.

“These predators are very good at grooming, manipulating and gaining the trust of these children to get them to produce these sexual images,” Bedford said.

The FBI said in Florida, we are on track to double the number of reported ‘sextortion’ cases from last year.

2021 - Sextortion Under 20Jan - March 2022 - Sextortion Under 20
Palm Beach5$3,150Palm Beach0$0
Data from the FBI

Authorities told NBC 6 many of these cases go unreported because of shame.

“Those are the ones that we had to knock on the door, talk to parents and say ‘I think your child has been a victim of online crime,’” said Lee Bieber, who is a member of the FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force in Miami, adding “the parents had no clue.”

Bedford and Bieber worked together on a case targeting multiple girls in Florida.

They say, in that case, a man pretended to be a friend of the girls in order to get them to share their log-in information and access their Snapchat accounts.

The man was later identified as Joseph Isaiah Woodson, Jr., a 30-year-old from Virginia. The FBI said he worked with others to target and extort young girls.

“It created this pattern where he (Woodson) would communicate with one (girl), take over the account and take over another account,” Bieber said. “We had approximately 350 child victims."

The FBI said Woodson had victims in 22 states and was accessing accounts nightly, asking the children to share sexually explicit photos and then threatening to share them with their friends and families if they didn’t send more.

“So these children are caught in that cycle,” Bedford said.

It can take a devastating toll.

Bedford told NBC 6 several girls in this case attempted suicide.

The grandmother of one of them, made a statement in court, saying in part, "What you did to my granddaughter, marked her in so many ways. She isolated herself, she lost all her childhood friends...."

The FBI told NBC 6 she was able to get the help she needed and she is doing much better.

They want to reiterate it’s important to seek help and there are many ways to do so.

“They can stop that message, they can turn it off,” Bedford said. “They can contact a family member who should be able to help them out."

Bedford said they can also help others by sharing their story.   

Woodson was convicted of multiple counts of child pornography, one count of extortion and one count of conspiracy. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

“That one courageous girl that came forward was able to expose this guy from continuing to exploit future children. That’s priceless,” Bedford said.

For parents, the best advice is to keep an open line of communication with your kids and talk to them about online safety. If you are not sure how to start the conversation, here are some tips.

It's also important to tell your kids not to accept friend requests from anyone they don't know in real life and monitor what they post.

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