Sextortion scams involving kids, especially young boys, surging in Chicago area, FBI warns

ByChuck Goudie and Christine Tressel, Barb Markoff and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Friday, April 7, 2023
Sextortion scams involving kids surging in Chicago area, FBI warns
Authorities say the criminals talk their way into obtaining explicit photos and demand money to keep the sexual pictures private.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Federal law enforcement officials are issuing an alert over a surge in the number of "sextortion" cases in metro Chicago.

The sextortion storm underway involves children and teenagers, increasingly young boys, being targeted while on their phones or playing video games, according to federal agents.

Authorities say the criminals talk their way into obtaining explicit photos and demand money to keep the sexual pictures private.

At FBI headquarters in Chicago, officials provided the startling new numbers to the I-Team and talked about a planned counterattack by federal authorities.

In Chicago, the number of sextortion cases nearly quadrupled so far this year, greatly outpacing even the huge national increase.

Special Agent Heather Czubak heads the FBI Chicago squad that will try to curb this growing new threat.

"It starts with a simple hello. They form a friendship and then ask for these images," explained Czubak.

Chicago is at the epicenter of the escalating problem, even as thousands of complaints nationwide are being investigated by federal law enforcement.

"Offenders are either posing as or using attractive females to target minor boys to produce images that are sexually explicit in nature and then extort them for financial gain," said Czubak.

The FBI said many sextortionists operate from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and the Philippines. The Midwest spike is currently a mystery.

"We don't know why particular areas are getting hit harder than others, but we do know it is a problem here and we are reaching out for help to address it immediately, " said Czubak.

"Please have conversations with your children about safe online activity. If you don't trust and know someone in real life, you can't trust them online. Please let your kids know it's okay to say no. It's okay to turn off your devices, to block users, to walk away from your gaming systems," she said.

As with the drug cartels and traditional organized crime rackets, sextortion is a crime that is all about the money. But FBI agents said that because the victims are vulnerable teenagers, they've seen young sextortion victims shamed into suicide or threats of taking their own life.

That is among the reasons federal agents are intent on an aggressive approach to seeing this stopped.

Related Topics