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'Sextortion' alert: Michigan AG, school leaders warn of online predators

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-22 18:00:26-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the state's school leaders are asking parents and students to beware of 'sextortion' as many children continue to spend more time on the internet due to the pandemic.

A press release from the AG's office said predators are tricking teens into exposing themselves online and then threatening to share the material more widely if the teen does not send money or more imagery.

According to the attorney general's office, two high school students in Allegan County recently fell victim to 'sextortion' and were lured into a private video chat only to be later blackmailed with payment demands.

“Technology continues to be a crucial tool as we work to stay connected throughout the pandemic, but it’s important to remember that any child allowed to use the internet in any capacity should be educated on how to protect themselves from predators,” said Attorney General Nessel in a press release. “I am grateful to the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators for raising awareness of this important message and I implore parents and guardians to remain actively engaged in their children’s online activities. I encourage anyone who may be a victim of sextortion to notify law enforcement immediately.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said offenders will pose as an acquaintance or a stranger with similar interests after reviewing posts of a potential victim.

The FBI offered the following tips on how to educate your child in an effort to prevent them falling victim to sextortion.

  • Make children aware that anything done online may be available to others;
  • Make sure children’s apps and social networking sites’ privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible;
  • Anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian or law enforcement immediately;
  • Victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited because it is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled to do so;
  • Parents should put personal computers in a central location in the home;
  • Parents should review and approve apps downloaded to smart phones and mobile devices and monitor activity on those devices;
  • Ensure an adult is present and engaged when children communicate via webcam; and
  • Discuss internet safety with children before they engage in any online activity and maintain those discussions as children become teenagers.

Through Michigan's OK2SAY program, students can confidentially report tips. Reports of sextortion can also be made to their local law enforcement agency, local FBI field office or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.