Sextortion is scary—but it is less overwhelming if you have support to help you through it. If you are a victim of teen sextortion, please let your parents or a trusted adult know right away. And if you are a parent whose child is receiving threats from a sextortionist, make sure your child knows unequivocally that you will support and stand by them no matter what.
If you are a minor or your child is the target of sextortion, we recommend taking the following steps right away:
- Do not panic,
- Do not pay the sextortionist,
- Save as much evidence of the sextortion as you can;
- Set all of your online accounts to private;
- Set up a Google Alert to monitor for more attacks;
- Reach out to an experienced attorney; and
- Report the sextortion to the proper authorities.
At Minc Law, we are well-versed in helping minors navigate situations like sextortion and online harassment. It can be extremely isolating to be targeted by a sextortionist, which is why it is helpful to have an experienced internet attorney by your side. We know how to reduce the likelihood of the release of harmful images and videos, communicate with the sextortionist on your behalf, and work with law enforcement to end the harassment quickly and discreetly.
In this article, we provide actionable tips for dealing with sextortion if you are a minor—or if you are a parent, helping your child navigate such online harassment.
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What is Sextortion?
Sextortion is a crime that can take place in many contexts—including social media, email, webcam interactions, and dating platforms. To protect your child from becoming the victim of a sextortion scheme, it is essential to understand what sextortion is and where it commonly takes place.
Video: What to Do If You or Your Child is a Victim of Sextortion
Definition of Sextortion
A sextortionist is a criminal who obtains private and explicit information about you, then threatens to make it public unless you give in to their demands. Sextortion is also commonly referred to as:
- Internet blackmail,
- Webcam blackmail,
- Online extortion
- Online harassment,
- Webcam sextortion,
- Online sextortion,
- Cyber harassment.
Sextortionists most commonly demand payment in the form of money, sexual favors, or more explicit images. These perpetrators count on their victims to panic and immediately pay a ransom. Many sextortion victims—especially if they are underage—feel shamed and would be willing to do anything to make the problem go away.
What Do Sextortion Scammers Want?
Perpetrators of a sextortion scam want you to send intimate photos or videos of yourself. These scammers try to trick you into believing you are engaging in an intimate conversation—when really, they are recording you or saving the images.
They will then hold the sensitive material over your head as a threat unless you pay the amount demanded or do them other favors.
Where Are Sextortionists Usually Located?
The global nature of the internet makes it possible to interact with strangers from all corners of the world. Many sextortionists conduct their schemes over international borders—which can often make it difficult to bring these perpetrators to justice.
In our experience at Minc Law, we find that sextortion can originate from anywhere in the world, but many sextortionists operate from the following countries:
Is Sextortion a Crime?
Sextortion is a crime in the U.S., although federal legislation is lacking when it comes to sextortion regulation. State laws vary widely, and many state regulations do not adequately address the complexities involved in common sextortion scenarios.
Depending on the state, the crime of sextortion may be prosecuted under a variety of different laws, including:
- Theft by extortion,
- Revenge porn,
However, because sextortionists are commonly located overseas, it is typically best to work with an experienced sextortion attorney to determine the best course of action.
How Does a Sextortion Scam Start & Happen?
Sextortion can happen anywhere people meet and communicate, such as:
- Messaging platforms like Whatsapp, Google Chat, and Skype;
- Video games with a chat component, like Fortnite or Minecraft;
- Email or text;
- Dating apps like Hinge and Tinder;
- Social Media platforms like Instagram or Snapchat.
In some cases, the scammer may pretend to be another child or teenager. They then win their underage victim’s trust enough to ask for compromising photos or videos. In other cases, the scammer’s first contact with the child is a threat. They may claim to have already obtained an explicit picture or video of the child.
Either way, the sextortionist threatens to reveal the sensitive information if the victim does not send more pictures or meet some other demand.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive resources explaining what to do if you are the target of Facebook sextortion, how to deal with Instagram sextortion, and what to do if you are the victim of Plenty of Fish sextortion.
What Are the Red Flags That Sextortion Cases Have in Common?
While sextortion scams can take many forms, most of these scammers tend to display similar red flags. They often research their victim online, using their social media profile to learn about the child’s location, age, interests, and friends. They then reach out to the child and attempt to build a relationship with them.
One major red flag of a sextortion attempt is if a new “friend” on social media quickly takes the conversation personal, flirtatious, and then sexual. Many sextortion scammers try to move the conversation to another platform—like a private messaging app—right away.
From there, they try to manipulate the victim into sending nude images. They may pose as another child with a romantic interest in their victim. Or they may claim to be a modeling agency representative who can help the child break into modeling if they send sexual images.
If their underage victim is not cooperative, the scammer may threaten to create fake explicit images or deep fake videos of the child. They might attempt to hack into the child’s cloud account and steal nude selfies or other explicit media. Once they have leverage over their victim, the sextortionist begins making their demands.
Minors & Sextortion on the Internet
Online sextortion is becoming increasingly common, and it has the potential to affect anyone—no matter their age. It is important to educate your child about how to recognize a potential sextortion scam, as well as how to react if it happens to them.
How Common Is Sextortion Among Teens & Minors?
Anyone, no matter their race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, is a potential victim of a sextortion scammer. If you are willing to engage with strangers online, you risk being targeted and manipulated by a malicious actor. Since many children are naturally trusting, they can be especially vulnerable to catfishing scams and sextortion online.
Unfortunately, more and more perpetrators are realizing that teens and minors are ideal victims of sextortion schemes. The FBI reports that over 3,000 minors—primarily boys—were targeted by sextortionists in 2022. And since many victims are intimidated and afraid to come forward, it is likely that the true number is even higher.
It is crucial for parents and authority figures to educate children about safe practices online—and to reassure them that if a sextortionist targets them, it is not their fault. They should reach out to a trusted adult immediately to seek help.
Why Do Young People Agree to Engage In Sextortion Scams?
There are countless reasons why a teenager or child might feel pressure to engage with a sextortionist. Sextortionists use a variety of tactics to manipulate and coerce their underage victims. Some pose as attractive teenagers, message their victims online, and convince them to send sexual videos.
Many teenagers (and adults) who are browsing social media out of boredom or loneliness are excited to receive attention from an attractive stranger. This excitement might lead them to forget their caution and be more susceptible to manipulation.
Some sextortionists offer money or expensive gifts to their victims in exchange for nude photos and explicit content. And others threaten their victims with violence or other real-life retribution if they do not cooperate.
Why Do Younger Victims Often Decide Against Asking for Help While Dealing With Sextortion?
When a child is manipulated or tricked into sending intimate images of themselves to a scammer, they can become afraid that they will get into trouble with their parents and with the law.
The sextortionist may tell the child that they have created child pornography and could go to jail if the material comes to light. The child might be afraid that if their parent or guardian finds out, they will be punished and lose access to their phone or computer.
Underage victims of sextortion feel ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated. They are likely worried that they have harmed their own future and disappointed their parents—and the scammer exploits those feelings.
Remember: the criminal on the other side is hoping they can isolate your child from their family and friends. Without your support, they will feel as if they have no option but to do what the sextortionist says.
If you discover that your child is being threatened by a sextortionist, your first act should be to reassure your child that they are not alone and you will support them, no matter what. Let them know that they can move forward from this and have a successful life.
Can My Child Get in Legal Trouble For Falling Prey to a Sextortion Scam?
Most sextortionists will do everything in their power to convince victims that they are the ones at risk—but remember, your child is not the one who committed a crime. The sextortionist is counting on your child to be confused, embarrassed, and too scared to report the incident to an adult.
Even if your child recorded the video or took the picture themselves—and even if they accepted money in exchange for the content—they are not legally at fault. The sextortionist is the one who committed the crime of obtaining explicit underage content, then using it to extort your child.
How to Deal with Sextortion of a Teen on the Internet
If you or your child has been targeted by a sextortionist, it is normal to feel anxious and unsure of what to do next. These scammers count on you being intimidated and acting out of fear—which is why it is important to stay calm.
What Should I Do if My Child Has Fallen Victim to a Sextortion Scam?
If you or your underage child has been targeted by a sextortionist, follow these steps:
Do Not Panic
Online extortion and harassment can be isolating and scary—but the scammer is counting on you to panic and act out of fear. It might feel like your only option is to do what the sextortionist says, but that is not true.
Take a deep breath, step away from the situation, and do not engage with the scammer any further.
If You Are a Minor: Speak to a Trusted Adult
If you are an underage victim, your first step should be to confide in a trusted adult. You do not have to face this threat alone. The sextortionist’s goal is to isolate you from people you care about and use your fear to force you to comply with their demands. Do not give them that power.
Unfortunately, we are aware of some situations in which extortion victims resorted to self-harm. Please understand that nothing is ever worth taking this kind of extreme action. You matter, and your mental health matters.
If you are considering self-harm and need someone to talk to, help is available. You can call the Suicide Prevention Helpline at 988 at any time of day or night.
If You Are a Parent: Support Your Child
When it comes to young people who have been sextorted, the number one predictor of their emotional health is whether they have the support of a family member.
If your child confides in you about being extorted by a criminal online, the most important thing you can do is support them. The internet is rife with bad actors, and anyone is a potential target for sextortion and other scams. If your child has been victimized by online harassment, make sure they know you support them and that they are not in trouble.
As a parent, you should help take control of the situation and take a stand to protect your child. They are likely overwhelmed and unable to handle the situation on their own.
The criminal on the other side of this situation is hoping that they can isolate your child from their support system. If your child feels like they have no options, they will be more likely to do what the sextortionist wants.
Do Not Pay the Sextortionist
It may seem like the only way to stop the harassment is to meet the scammer’s demands. But in most cases, paying them or giving them what they want will not make the problem go away.
Meeting their demands gives them the upper hand; it shows them that you can be manipulated. Often, the sextortionist will simply come back and ask for more money or favors.
Save as Much Evidence of the Sextortion as You Can
Sextortion is a crime—and the more evidence you have, the easier it will be to bring the perpetrator to justice. Help your child preserve evidence by taking screenshots of all messages between the victim and the sextortionist. If you or your child already sent payments, save receipts or evidence of those as well.
Try to save anything that could be used to identify the real person behind the scam. Save screenshots of information like their username, email address, and any other identifying information from their online profile.
Set All of Your Accounts to Private
The best way to protect your child’s safety after an online attack is to lock down all of their public profiles. To limit who has access to their information, help your child set all of their online accounts to the maximum privacy settings possible.
Help your child disable or delete any profiles or accounts they no longer use. And on the profiles they still use, warn them not to accept any friend requests from strangers and consider having them give you login access so you can monitor their activity.
Set Up a Google Alert
If you or your child are being harassed online, it is best to monitor the web for other attacks. The easiest way to keep an eye on your or your child’s online reputation is with a free Google Alerts account. When you set up a Google Alert for your name or another keyword, you receive an alert anytime that word or phrase is mentioned anywhere online.
Going beyond Google Alerts, a digital risk protection (DRP) service can help monitor and preserve your online reputation more holistically. DRP services use a variety of methods and tools to watch for potential risks to your or your child’s digital footprint.
Reach Out to An Experienced Online Sextortion Attorney
Each state has its own definition of internet sextortion, blackmail, and extortion. They also have different statute(s) regulating these crimes, and many statutes do not name sextortion specifically. Since sextortion typically falls under state jurisdiction, prosecuting a perpetrator can look very different depending on where you live.
An experienced internet attorney can help you navigate the legal nuances and strategies involved in dealing with sextortion. At Minc Law, we have extensive experience communicating with perpetrators and ending harassment on popular social media and dating platforms. We know how to remove defamatory content from the internet and have it de-indexed from Google search results—and we also have experience working with law enforcement to bring perpetrators to justice.
Most importantly, we know how to resolve these situations swiftly and discreetly, without bringing more attention to the situation than necessary.
Report the Sextortion to the Proper Authorities
You may want to report the sextortionist to the site or app where they harassed you. The platform moderators may de-platform or mute the perpetrator so they cannot harass other victims.
You may also want to make a police report of the crime. Keep in mind, however, that contacting law enforcement and creating a police report comes with the risk of creating a public record of an incident you would rather keep private. It is usually best to consult with an experienced internet attorney about your options before making the decision to involve law enforcement.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive guide by Darcy Buxton explaining where to turn for sextortion help.
What Should You Avoid Doing if You or Your Child Have Been Sextorted?
If you or your child are being threatened by a sextortionist, it is crucial to avoid giving them more power over you. Stop all communication with the sextortionist immediately—and whatever you do, do not pay them.
Never Engage With the Sextortonist on Your Own
Once you have received a threatening message from a sextortionist, it is natural to want to reply to them and try to diffuse the situation right away. But this is not advisable, since responding to a sextortionist just encourages them to continue threatening you.
You may also be tempted to tell your friends and family about the incident, especially if the scammer is threatening to release the explicit content on social media. You may worry about the content going viral, and you might want to “get ahead of the story.”
Instead, refrain from going public with the situation. You may be able to resolve the situation quietly and without any damage to your reputation—especially if you have an experienced lawyer on your side.
Avoid Paying a Sextortionist
Do not meet the sextortionist’s demands. Paying them or sending more explicit content does not guarantee that they will go away—in fact, it will likely encourage them to come back and ask for more payment later.
If you already initiated a money transfer before reading this article, your situation is not hopeless. Do what you can to cancel the money transfer before it goes through, and cut off all contact with the scammer from this point on.
What Are the Odds That a Sextortionist Follows Through on Their Threats?
When a sextortionist threatens to ruin your life if you do not do what they say, it can feel like you have no choices. After all, you do not want explicit photos or media to be published or sent to your closest friends and family.
But you have more power in the situation than it appears. Most sextortionists do not follow through on their threats.
After all, why would they? If they publish or share the content, they lose their leverage over you. And doing so might risk calling the attention of law enforcement.
Some very determined sextortionists might decide to follow through on their threats, but most will simply move on to another victim if you do not cooperate.
How to Help Your Child Deal With the Burden of Sextortion
Sextortion is a complex, scary, and heavy topic—which makes it difficult to discuss with children. But since many sextortionists target adolescents and minors, it is important to make your child aware of the dangers of sextortion and online blackmail.
How to Talk to Your Children About Sextortion
You can help protect your teens by being involved in their online life and having open discussions about online safety. Do not assume that your teenager is just using their devices to make TikTok videos and connect with their friends on Instagram. There are a multitude of platforms—and new ones every day—that present potentially dangerous opportunities for teens to communicate with strangers.
Tell your children about any red flags or warning signs of a scammer. Warn them not to trust that a new “friend” they meet online is exactly who they say they are.
Of course, mistakes happen—which is why you should make sure your child also knows that if they get caught up in a scam, they do not have to panic or feel ashamed. They can always come to you for help.
What Else Can Parents Do to Prevent Sextortion?
It can be hard for parents not to feel like the “bad guy” when it comes to restricting children’s internet activity. But setting reasonable boundaries and rules helps protect your child and makes their online life healthier and more enjoyable overall.
One good rule of thumb is to keep phones, computers, and gaming systems out of your child’s bedroom after bedtime. You may also want to set up a family-friendly internet filter and occasionally spot-check your child’s devices for red flags that they are being targeted by romance scammers. Show them that you are on their side and your rules are for their protection, not because you do not trust them.
Make sure your child knows that while you are doing what you can to protect them, internet crimes can affect anyone. Tell them that nothing they do could make you love them less—and no matter what happens, you will be there to support and help them.
What Can Your Teens Do to Prevent Sextortion
It is a good idea for everyone, no matter their age, to practice responsible internet safety. Make sure your teens are aware of common-sense safety tips like:
- Never trust that an internet stranger is who they say they are.
- If a stranger DMs or messages you, ignore them.
- Be suspicious of new online “friends” who get flirtatious quickly, send unsolicited inappropriate images, or ask you to move to another platform.
- Set all of your social media accounts to private and restrict who can view your posts and profile information.
- Avoid using the internet late at night, since you are tired and less likely to be vigilant about your safety.
- Do not open attachments or click on links from people you do not know.
- Turn off your electronic devices when they are not in use, and use a webcam cover for your computer.
- Never send inappropriate images of yourself to anyone online, no matter how close you are to them (since you have no control over what happens to the image afterward).
- If you have been threatened by a sextortionist or scammer, tell a trusted adult right away. The adult can help you report the crime to the proper authorities and stop the sextortionist from exploiting other teens.
Important Resources For Victims of Sextortion
If being the victim of sextortion is causing you to experience thoughts of self-harm, please know that you are not alone. Help is available—and we encourage you to call the Suicide Prevention Helpline at 988 right away.
To help bring the perpetrator to justice, you can report sextortion and online harassment to numerous law enforcement and investigative agencies. Alongside your local police, you can also report sextortion to the following agencies depending on where you live:
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (United States)
- FBI Internet Crimes Complaint Center (United States)
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (United Kingdom)
- National Crime Agency (United Kingdom)
- Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (Canada)
- eSafety Commissioner (Australia)
We Can Help Your Child With Sextortion
No one – especially a minor, should ever have to face sextortion alone. If you or your child is the target of internet sextortion, it is important to seek help as soon as possible so that you or your child can move forward and have a successful life.
“Attorney Dorrian Horsey handled a very sensitive, embarrassing case for me and she did so with kindness, grace, and without judgement. She was fiercely dedicated the whole year it took and did not waiver. She has changed and, in fact, saved my life. Any client or firm should feel honored to have her on their team. Dorrian deserves, a promotion, a raise, a company car, three weeks paid vacation, and a corner window office when we return to offices. Words cannot fully express how thankful I am to Attorney Horsey. Thank you, Dorrian!”
Oct 27, 2021
If you require an emergency sextortion consultation with one of our experienced sextortion attorneys, contact us by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.