Effort to raise awareness and investigations of 'sextortion' cases targeting children

May 14, 2019 11:00 PM

It's a rare day when the leaders of three federal agencies in Minnesota sit down on the same day, at the same time with a member of the media.

They did with KSTP-TV recently, which speaks to how worrisome they believe the issue of 'sextortion' is in Minnesota.

Sextortion is a cybercrime, where online predators use social media to get kids to share sexually explicit images-- over and over and over again. 

Federal investigators said it is a growing threat to children. Erica MacDonald is the United States Attorney for Minnesota and said her office is on track to charge 38 percent more cases this year over 2018.

"Now that everybody has a tablet, a phone, there is no end to the deviance of certain individuals willing to exploit the vulnerabilities of our children," MacDonald said.

More from KSTP:

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Her office of federal prosecutors is part of a larger team of agencies including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, who track and prosecute extortion cases. 

Jill Sanborn is the FBI Special Agent in Charge.

"Anytime you have a community being victimized the way they are with 'sextortion' situations, we come together as law enforcement to protect those victims," said Sanborn.

As head of the Department of Homeland Security for Minnesota, North and South Dakota's, Tracy Cormier says the false conception of feeling safe while on the internet at home should be a retired assumption.

"Everyone has access to the internet and they feel they're untouchable because they're at home on their computer doing this, [but] they're not untouchable [and] we will come after you. It is really like shooting fish in a barrel, any day my agents can get online and catch somebody," Cormier said.

Investigators said online or anonymous apps are the new playgrounds for predators who befriend unsuspecting teens, gain their trust over time and eventually coerce them to share a provocative photo.

Cyber suspects also record sexually explicit live streams, even hack into electronic devices, always wanting more. If they don't get that, blackmailing begins. The suspect threatens to go public with compromising material, or else.

"These images once sent you can't get back and the damage it can do to a child psychologically and physically, they may self-harm [as a result]. We've got to raise awareness on the issue," said MacDonald. 

Agency leaders are taking that message to families in Bloomington in May.  A community gathering will be held, a 'sextortion' survivor will speak along with Bloomington Police Chief, Jeff Potts.

The FBI offers these suggestions to reduce the chances of being victimized: 

  • DON'T send compromising images to anyone
  • DON'T open attachments from people you don't know
  • TURN OFF electronic devices and web camera's when you're not using them
  • If you're getting threats, confide in someone. Authorities have to know about a suspect to go after them.   

MacDonald also stressed that "the focus is on protecting the victim and punishing the predator."

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Beth McDonough

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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