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After the focus in recent years has been on the victims of young girls, cybercrime has recently increased, which also targets boys and young men, for sexual blackmail of them through social networking sites, according to a long report by the American “NBC News” network.

Online extortionists trick young men and boys into sending them explicit sexual content online, pretending to be young women on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and then blackmailing them for money.

But the danger is that many of these boy victims eventually took their own lives, according to police representatives and child advocates.

FBI warns

In a sign of the seriousness of the problem, the FBI field office in Los Angeles last month issued a warning, aimed directly at parents of young adults who may be the victims of criminals, who often operate from abroad.

“The FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports from adults pretending to be girls, encouraging young people to produce sexual images and videos of themselves on social media, and then extorting money from them,” the warning read.

One of those victims, 17-year-old Ryan Last, from California, was in his final year of high school and was planning to study at Washington State University in the fall, before committing suicide last February, after an extortionist threatened him with offensive photos instead. him online.

His mother, Pauline Stewart, told NBC News that her son “thought he was talking to a young woman, and was then surprised that these criminals asked him for $ 5,000, which made him panic and steal money from his study fund. have to pay the money. to the extortionists. ” .

“When he first paid them some of that money, they pushed him to send more, it was too much for him,” she says, adding that “this pressure and shame was the reason she lost her son. ”

“The criminals did not give up, which made him feel that he had no choice but to do it (suicide) to protect his family. He loved us so much that he wanted to protect us from the mistake that he made. ”

“In 6 cases, at least one young man took his own life,” said investigator John Pearce, who has investigated dozens of cases of sexual extortion in Utah. “Nationally, there are hundreds if not thousands of cases of extortion, as well as many cases are not reported.”

One of the cases Pierce worked on was a 16-year-old named Tevan Tobler, from Utah, who died by suicide in September 2017.

His parents recently said their son was a valedictorian, a high school wrestling champion, and an activist in the church.

In his last days, he was targeted by an Ivory Coast blackmailer, Detective Pearce discovered after looking at Tobler’s cell phone records.

Pierce found that the teenager was chased for money by someone who sent him more than 1,000 messages, in some cases as often as every 30 seconds.

“In the case of Tivan, we could not confirm the original communication platform,” Pearce said.

But he noted that “in most other cases it was done through Facebook, Instagram or Google.”

“In previous years, the typical victims of this type of crime were young girls, but recently there has been a shift to boys,” says John Sheehan, of the National Center for Missing and Missing Children, adding that he sees an increase in the number of such cases over the past six months.

He added: “It is rare to talk or hear stories of (electronic) sexual exploitation of boys, but in reality boys are equally vulnerable to these crimes and are often tempted (..) to produce sexually explicit content. “

“Boys are an easy target because it’s easier to get them to share intimate photos, and they’re less likely to tell anyone what happened to them out of shame,” Pearce explains.

sophisticated criminal groups

The extortionists function as part of sophisticated criminal groups targeting boys from outside the United States, according to Pierce.

He adds: “This is definitely a criminal project involving organizations located in countries with which we do not have extradition treaties,” adding that “it is a very complex process, which can not be an individual operation. . “

Among these countries are Nigeria and India, and especially the Ivory Coast, which has long been a hub for cybercrime.

The Ivory Coast Embassy in Washington has not responded to the network’s requests for comment and a statement on the country’s efforts to crack down on these blackmailers.

A quick internet search indicates that Ivory Coast remains a safe haven for cybercriminals.

The U.S. State Department’s External Security Advisory Board warned in 2020 that “financial and electronic fraud is spreading in Côte d’Ivoire.”

While investigators are still locating her deceased son’s extortionist, Stewart said she is sounding the alarm to help save others.

Stewart attends seminars through the Children’s Cybercrime Task Force program in Silicon Valley, where she says, “I can lie in my bed crying for hours or I can do something to prevent it from happening to another family.”

She appealed to parents: “Let your children know that whatever happens, it’s a mistake and they can get over it.”

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