‘Just one picture’: FBI tracking new sextortion crimes against kids

SPOKANE, Wash. — The FBI is sounding the alarm on new sextortion crimes affecting kids as more young people spend time online.

“They’re just getting better at reaching young people,” said Christian Parker, a special agent in Spokane with the FBI.

He says predators are reaching young people on platforms many parents think are safe, like video games. They strike up a casual conversation that turns into a nightmare.

“It often starts with just one picture or one video, and that one picture is often the catalyst for further exploitation,” he said.

These predators then use explicit photos as blackmail, and kids feel stuck and scared.

“Victims often end up in patterns of self-harm, even suicide as a result of this exploitation.”

Last year, 4 News Now reported on this crime happening right here at home. A 9-year-old Spokane boy was playing the popular game Roblox when a predator gained his trust. The young boy ended up sending 25 naked photos before law enforcement was called.

Parents need to know what their kids are doing online.

“A parent can say hey, I saw something on the news tonight and it made me think — let’s talk about it,” Parker added. “Have you ever talked with someone online that you didn’t know before?”

As a father and FBI agent, Parker says he’s hesitant letting his kids use online chat features.

“My counsel to my kids and any kids out there is don’t talk to somebody online that you don’t know in person,” he said.

The FBI is tracking new ways criminals are preying on victims.

“Now instead of saying — hey, send me more pictures or I’m going disclose this, they’ll say hey send me money or I’m going to disclose this,” he said.

So far this year in Washington, there have been 31 sextortion complaints made to the FBI. Investigators say this number is well below the actual number of victims because kids are often too scared to come forward.

On top of the trauma these crimes have on victims, there’s also a lot of money lost. The FBI says so far this year in Washington, victims have lost over $70,000 from sextortion crimes.

The crime isn’t going away, but the more you educate your kids about online risks, the safer they may be.