Sextortion involving children and teens is on the rise. According to the FBI, more than 3,000 underage victims were targeted in 2022, leading to the suicide of more than a dozen victims. The vast majority of the victims have been male.
This cybercrime has a devastating impact on families and communities across the U.S. The FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and local law enforcement partners have urged parents to discuss it with their children to prevent them from becoming victims.
The Social Media Victims Law Center is committed to providing up-to-date information on sextortion and other social media-related cybercrimes. If you or someone you love has experienced sextortion, we offer a free and confidential case evaluation to help you explore your legal options.
Sextortion is a cybercrime and a form of sexual abuse. Typically, a victim is coerced or tricked into sending explicit photos or videos to a blackmailer. The blackmailer then threatens to expose a victim’s intimate or sexual content unless the victim complies with the blackmailer’s demands. These schemes have usually targeted teenage boys, but others are at risk, too.
A standard example of sextortion involves a scammer posing as a young woman. “She” will chat with the teen and build a rapport before sending the teen a fake nude picture of “herself.” She then convinces the boy to share a nude image of himself.
Once the boy sends the scammer a nude selfie, the scammer blackmails the victim. The scammer threatens to distribute the incriminating image to family and friends unless the boy pays the scammer a specific amount of money.
Sextortion seriously violates the victim’s privacy. However, even more troubling, a significant number of victims commit suicide because they are unable to handle the stress of the sextortionists’ demands.
The FBI's National Public Safety Alert
Over the last year, law enforcement has received more than 7,000 reports of minor-related sextortion cases, which are linked to over 3,000 victims. These schemes target teens in online environments where they feel comfortable, such as:
- Social media sites
- Video chat apps
- Gaming sites
Predators create fake accounts and often pose as young women to target teens. In return, they often demand money or gift cards for not publicizing explicit material the teens shared privately with the scammer.
The FBI urges young people who are facing sextortion to report the crime at 1-800-CALL-FBI or to file an online report.
The Sextortion-Suicide Link
Victims’ fear, confusion, and shame when caught in a sextortion trap can prevent them from seeking help or reporting the abuse. In extreme examples, scammers drive teens to commit suicide.
Jordan DeMay's Story
Jordan was a 17-year-old high school student weeks away from his 18th birthday. Smart and handsome, he was a talented football athlete and a good student living with his family in Michigan.
In March, he began chatting with a 22-year-old sextortion scammer from Lagos, Nigeria, on Instagram named Samuel Ogoshi. However, Jordan believed Ogoshi was a young woman with the username dani.robertts. The account was real but had been hacked and sold to Ogoshi. Ogoshi used this account to convince young men and boys to send explicit photos of themselves and then leveraged the explicit material for money.
In Jordan’s case, Ogoshi demanded $1,000 and threatened to make the teen’s nude photos go viral if he didn’t pay. Jordan only sent $300, and Ogoshi threatened to send the images to the boy’s family and friends. Hours later, Jordan responded that he would kill himself.
Ogoshi responded, “Good. Do that fast. Or I’ll make you do it. I swear to God.”
Jordan took his life at 3 a.m. in his bedroom. According to the teen’s father, Ogoshi murdered him through Instagram while the family slept.
Ogoshi was arrested for hacking Instagram accounts and sexually extorting over 100 young men. Federal authorities charged him with causing Jordan’s death.
Brandon Guffey's Crusade Against Sextortion
In South Carolina, soon-to-be State Representative Brandon Guffey lost his son to a similar scheme, proving no one is immune to sextortion.
Scammers masquerading as a young woman had been messaging Gavin Guffey. They had sent Gavin nude pictures and requested similar images in return. They used a vanish mode feature that deleted messages after the recipient exited the chat. These modes can give users a false sense of security surrounding private messages and photos. Victims fail to realize that the scammers have another device that records the private chat data.
After Gavin shared photos of himself, the scammers blackmailed him. Gavin sent them all the money in his Venmo account, which was only $25, and begged for more time to get them more money.
Gavin sent a heart-shaped symbol on a black background to his friends and younger brother in the pre-dawn hours of his final morning. A few minutes later, he walked to the hallway bathroom and fatally shot himself. His father heard a loud thud and rushed to the bathroom to find his son bleeding on the floor.
For weeks, Brandon and his family searched for signs to explain the suicide and eventually discovered that Gavin had fallen victim to a sextortion scheme.
In the weeks after Gavin’s funeral, the scammers harassed Brandon and his 16-year-old son, Coen, on Instagram. They demanded money in exchange for Gavin’s nude photos. They went so far as to send Brandon a message on Gavin’s birthday, claiming that Gavin begged for his life and included a laughing face emoji.
At the time of Gavin’s death, Brandon Guffey was running for State House representative. He briefly considered quitting his campaign to hunt down the scammers, but his wife convinced him he could do more good for other teens by serving in office.
He assumed office six months later, and his first act was introducing a state bill criminalizing sextortion scams. Named Gavin’s Law, the bill passed unanimously. Under the new law, scammers who extort a minor or at-risk adult face up to five years in prison for a first offense.
The FBI has yet to arrest a suspect in the Guffey case, but the investigation is ongoing.
How Sextortion Schemes Target Teens
Sextortion predators usually trick young male victims into thinking they are communicating with a beautiful young woman of the same age. They believe the young woman is interested in pursuing a romantic relationship. Then the scammers convince the boys to send explicit content.
Young people are more likely to comply with these requests because they are more impulsive and weigh risks differently than adults. Teenagers’ decision-making abilities are underdeveloped because the brain’s prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until the mid-20s.
Law Enforcement Fights Back
As sextortion crimes have increased, law enforcement is focusing on apprehending these cybercriminals. Michigan announced that it is extraditing three men from Nigeria for sextortion crimes. One of the men is charged with causing the death of Jordan DeMay.
Police in Los Angeles arrested a suspect in the case of 17-year-old Ryan Last, who killed himself in San Jose, California, after falling victim to a sextortion scam.
It is important to discuss scams such as sextortion with teens who are on social media. Understanding how these crimes happen can prevent them from falling victim to these predators.