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From the Federal Bureau of Investigation: Dangerous Connections – Youth Face A Massive Risk of Sextortion Online
One victim was a 14-year-old boy from West Virginia. Another victim from Michigan was only 12. Yet another was a 17-year-old girl from Ohio who attempted suicide in a desperate try to escape the situation.
In total, the FBIFBI FBI - Federal Bureau of Investigation The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States and its principal federal law enforcement agency. Operating under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Justice, the FBI is also a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community and reports to both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. A leading U.S. counter-terrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigative organization, the FBI has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes, including financial fraud. was able to identify 20 young people who were harassed, threatened, and sexually exploited online by an Indiana man who had served as a youth minister in his community.
When the FBI arrested Richard Finkbiner in April 2012, the 40-year-old had more than 22,000 videos of webcam feeds, much of it sexually explicit content that he had obtained from young people nationwide. Investigators believe he had dozens more victims that they could not identify, perhaps hundreds more.
The Finkbiner case is one in a long list of sextortion cases that have been investigated or prosecuted in the last two decades. FBI agents say more and more cases cross their desks each year involving young people who are manipulated, threatened, or coerced into creating explicit or pornographic content by an adult online.
The perpetrators employ gaming platforms, social media, and dating and video chat applicationsApplications Applications or Apps An application (software), commonly referred to as an ‘app’ is a program on a computer, tablet, mobile phone or device. Apps are designed for specific tasks, including checking the weather, accessing the internet, looking at photos, playing media, mobile banking, etc. Many apps can access the internet if needed and can be downloaded (used) either for a price or for free. Apps are a major point of vulnerability on all devices. Some are designed to be malicious, such as logging keystrokes or activity, and others can even transport malware. Always be careful about any app you are thinking about installing. to reach their young victims and use any number of ploys—from pretending to be a romantic interest, flattery, and attention, offers of money or other items of value, or threats to coerce the child to produce an explicit image.
Once the perpetrator has a single image or video, they will use threats of exposure or other means of coercion to make the child produce more and more images and even more explicit material.
“The second the criminalCriminal A criminal is any person who through a decision or act engages in a crime. This can be complicated, as many people break laws unknowingly, however, in our context, it is a person who makes a decision to engage in unlawful acts or to place themselves with others who do this. A criminal always has the ability to decide not to break the law, or if they initially engage in crime to stop doing it, but instead continues. gets a picture, that child’s life is going to be turned upside down,” said Special Agent Ryan Barrett, who worked on Finkbiner’s case from the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office. “These people are relentless. They don’t care.”
Finkbiner sent his victims doctored but believable screenshots of their videos on pornographic websites when they refused to comply with his next demand; he also sent lists of friends and family taken from the young people’s social media accounts with threats to widely share their material. Seeing some of the messages Finkbiner sent his victims can help make clear how threatening and brutal these perpetrators can be:
“I wont get caught im a hackerHacker A computer hacker is a computer expert who uses their technical knowledge to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, within a computerized system by non-standard means. Though the term hacker has become associated in popular culture with a security hacker – someone who utilizes their technical know-how of bugs or exploits to break into computer systems and access data which would otherwise be unavailable to them – hacking can also be utilized by legitimate figures in legal situations. For example, law enforcement agencies sometimes use hacking techniques in order to collect evidence on criminals and other malicious actors. This could include using anonymity tools (such as a VPN, or the dark web) to mask their identities online, posing as criminals themselves. Likewise, covert world agencies can employ hacking techniques in the legal conduct of their work. Oppositely, hacking and cyber-attacks are used extra- and illegally by law enforcement and security agencies (conducting warrantless activities), and employed by State actors as a weapon of both legal and illegal warfare. i covered my tracks.”
“If u don’t play i promise ill f*** your life over.”
Although in most sextortion cases there is no hands-on abuse, the offense is serious, the sentences for offenders are long (50 years in the Finkbiner case), and the impact on a child’s life severe.
Catherine Connell, a licensed social worker and child/adolescent forensic interviewer and program manager with the FBI, says she sees a number of damaging effects from the crime among the victims she works with, including depression, anxiety, hopelessness, fear, and suicidal thoughts. “The traumaTrauma Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety or other emotional shocks, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized. Trauma requires treatment, either through counseling or therapy or through trauma-oriented support programs, such as those offered by SCARS. level we see with these kids is significant,” said Connell.
To understand how and why young people become victims, it helps to understand the mind of a young person and the techniques used by criminals.
First, this crime is happening where young people usually feel most comfortable—in their own homes, connected to a device or a game that feels familiar and safe. “It’s important for both parents and children to realize that their guard is typically down when they’re engaging with their device,” said Supervisory Special Agent Brian Herrick, assistant chief of the FBI’s Violent Crime Section.
Second, young people are not adults. Connell stressed that however smart or mature a teen may seem, his or her brain is not fully formed. As they ride through what she calls a perfect storm of social, emotional, sexual, and cognitive development, they are making imperfect decisions. “Your teens are facing decisions with more emotion and less cognitive thinking and judgment,” she said. “They are not thinking, ‘If I do this, this is what may happen, this could be a consequence.’ ”
Finally, young people are up against criminals who have spent a great deal of time and energy learning how to target them. In the Finkbiner case, he used a fake profile of an older teen girl to start a conversation with adolescent and teen boys. He would then stream sexual images he had captured of a female victim and encourage the boy to send pictures or go on a webcam.
In a Portland case involving a 50-year-old perpetrator named David Ernest Otto, he found girls on a photo-sharing site who were open to the flattery, interest, and attention of an older man. He then convinced them to start sending sexually explicit material. He received a 15-year sentence in April 2019 for victimizing six minors.
In another case, a California man who is still awaiting trial threatened to kill, kidnap, and injure his victims to compel them to create content. His bomb threats to a teenage girl in Plainfield, Indiana, even caused police to shut down several schools and stores in 2015.
Herrick also says the FBI is seeing an increasing number of cases start on connected gaming systems, where the competition is intense and the offer of game credits or codes is enough to convince a child to create an explicit image.
Whatever technique pushes the young person to produce the first image, fear, coercion, and manipulation keep the crime going. In addition to the threats and coercion of the criminal, young victims often feel that they have done something wrong and will be punished by parents or caregivers or prosecuted by law enforcement if their actions are discovered.
Connell also stresses that as silly as it may seem to adults, the fear of being discovered and losing access to the technology that feels like a vital part of their lives is a serious concern. “The number one thing is they feel like they’re going to tell mom and dad and their technology will be taken away and they’re going to get in trouble,” said Connell. She also stressed that when the child knows there is photo and video evidence of their abuse, it makes it even harder to talk about.
The FBI agents and forensic interviewers who deal with this crime shared that if a child admits that they are experiencing this type of coercion, parents, educators, and caregivers should move first to help the child and try hard to put aside any angerAnger Anger, also known as wrath or rage, is an intense emotional state involving a strong uncomfortable and non-cooperative response to a perceived provocation, trigger, hurt or threat. About one-third of scam victims become trapped in anger for extended periods of time following a scam. A person experiencing anger will often experience physical effects, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increased levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Some view anger as an emotion that triggers a part of the fight or flight response. Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically. Anger can have many physical and mental consequences. While most of those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them", psychologists point out that an angry person can very well be mistaken because anger causes a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability. or desire to punish.
“Your child’s bravest moment may be the moment they tell,” said Special Agent Damon Bateson, who worked on the Otto case and is dealing with other sextortion investigations in the FBI’s Portland Field Office. “You want to be your kid’s best advocate,” Bateson stressed. “Have those conversations so that if something does happen, your child comes to you for help. The last thing you want is someone from the FBI knocking on your door because your child has been victimized in a crime.”
“It’s important from the youngest age, when your child first starts using the Internet, that you have those open dialogue conversations about what’s appropriate,” said Herrick.
Parents and caregivers should make decisions for their family about screen-time rules and limits. Connell does feel regular spot checks and conversations about who your child is conversing with and what applications they are using can be important, but the nature of these ever smaller, ever more powerful, and ever-present devices mean children will have many unguarded and unsupervised moments online.
Barrett said that after dealing with many of these cases, he feels the most important messages to young people are simple ones:
- Many people online are not who they say they are.
- Don’t talk to people you don’t know online.
- Understand that any content produced on a web-enabled device can be made public.
- If you are being threatened or coerced online, tell someone. There is help and there is hope.
TO REPORT SUSPECTED SEXTORTION:
Call the nearest FBI field office or 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324). To make a CyberTipline Report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), visit report.cybertip.org.
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TAGS: Sextortion, FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Teen Sextorion, Child ScamsScams A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime - is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost., Blackmail Scams, Child Predators, Teen ScamScam A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime - is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost. Victims, Teen Sextortion Victims,
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