‘Parents: What to do about kids’ financial sextortion’

The rise of “financial sextortion,” a cybercrime targeting teens and tweens, is a growing concern for parents and law enforcement alike. This form of crime involves criminals coercing young people into creating and sending sexually explicit material like photos and videos, pretending to be someone they’re not, and then blackmailing victims to release that content to friends and family unless payment is received. This type of crime targets wealthy households, with $150,000 or more in annual income, the most. Scammers see this demographic as more likely to pay a higher ransom and often have more digital devices and a larger digital footprint.

According to the FBI, this is the fastest growing crime targeting children in North America and Australia. The Network Contagion Research Institute reports that incidents of financial sextortion are up 1,000% in the past 18 months. However, experts believe that these numbers are underreported, as they rely on reported incidents.

It is essential for parents to be proactive in safeguarding their children from such predatory scams. Some steps parents can take are to not assume their child is safe, monitor their internet and social media use, review and set internet and social media usage rules, engage in open communication, invest in identity protection services and be conscious of their own social media behavior. If any unwanted contact occurs, parents should contact law enforcement immediately.

Given the sensitive nature of this issue, the FBI has emphasized the importance of open lines of communication and information-sharing between parents and children as the best defense. It is also crucial to educate children about not sharing explicit content and how to respond if they are targeted. Crucially, letting kids know they always can come to you for help is important.

Tracy Kitten, the director of fraud and security at Javelin, suggests investing in identity protection services, while children over 18 have stingy access to social media and gaming accounts. This can prevent cases of identity theft or loss of private content.

More broadly, parents should strive to maintain an open, understanding relationship with their children, ensuring that they are aware that there is always someone they can turn to if they are being pressured online. Lastly, if any unwanted contact occurs, parents should act quickly and reach out to law enforcement for support.

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