MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KRON) – A troubling trend the FBI calls “sextortion” is on the rise. And one teen in South Bay, California, died by suicide in late February after interacting with a cyber scammer, the boy’s mother said.
“They probably spent four or five hours getting to know him and then a couple hours of pressure, he couldn’t handle the pressure and took his life rather than see his pictures posted on the internet,” said Pauline Stuart, the late teen’s mother.
Stuart said her 17-year-old son, Ryan Last, had a good head on his shoulders. He was a member of the Future Farmers of America and ready to attend Washington State University. That all changed in late February, when a cyber scammer reached out to him.
Stuart said the scammer posed as a woman, sent Last a picture and Last sent one back. Then, the scammer demanded $5,000. Last sent a fraction, but it wasn’t enough.
The FBI said sextortion cases such as this one are increasingly targeting young men through social media. Victims are commonly 14 to 17 years old.
“Social media means everything to them, and that was their way to reach kids,” Stuart said.
According to the FBI, there has been a “huge” rise in the number of cases in which adults use this crime to threaten and coerce children and teens.
“Sextortion can start on any site, app, or game where people meet and communicate,” the FBI stated on its website. “In some cases, the first contact from the criminal will be a threat.”
Stuart said she had parental controls on her son’s electronics, but she added that parents must sit down with their kids.
“Talk to your kids about what apps they are on and make them understand that not everybody that reaches out to them is who they say they are,” she said.
The FBI says young people often fall prey to this crime because they believe the person with whom they are communicating is their own age and wants a relationship or is offering something of value.
“The adult will use threats, gifts, money, flattery, lies, or other methods to get a young person to produce an image,” the FBI stated.
In 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center logged more than 18,000 complaints of sextortion. Losses topped $13.6 million, which “reflects all types of sextortion reported,” according to the agency.
The FBI says the scammers in the Last case have been traced back to Africa, but for a mother in mourning, her new mission is educating other parents on sextortion.
“We need to educate and do all that for other people so they can’t do it to anyone else,” Stuart said.
Anyone in need of help can reach out to the National Suicide Hotline by calling 1-800-273-8255. By July 16, 2022, U.S. residents can also be connected to the Lifeline by dialing 988.