Several federal agencies warned of a significant uptick in cases of “financial sexploitation” of children and teens, a cybercrime in which the victims are coerced into sending explicit images online and then extorted for money, Politico reports. The FBI, along with the main Justice Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, issued a national public safety alert Monday about what an FBI official described as a “staggering increase” in cases — 7,000 reports in the last year alone. Those reports have resulted in at least 3,000 victims and over a dozen related suicides, a Justice Department official said. The majority of offenders are based in West Africa — specifically Nigeria and the Ivory Coast — and the victims are overwhelmingly male, according to the alert. Offenders typically engage with their victims over social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, but on gaming platforms.
The agencies did not announce plans to prosecute anyone in connection with the reports .“When it comes to these types of prosecutions, they can be quite difficult, first and foremost with identification of offenders,” a Justice Department official noted. Online identities can be difficult to validate and are easy to fake, and linking them back to a real person can take a long time. These cases are further complicated by the fact that most offenders are located outside the U.S., leading to extradition issues. The alert was timed as children and families prepare for winter break, a Justice Department official said, as “a lot of kids are going to be out of school at home, spending a lot of time online.”