The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) held a press conference on April 5 to discuss reports of sextortion and the Jackson FBI’s community outreach initiatives.
“We’re looking to have a lot more proactive engagement to make sure that communities are aware of things that are going on, not just trending threats that may be happening but also emerging threats,” said Jermicha Fomby, special agent in charge of the Jackson field office for the FBI.
“Through that, I’m hoping that we can make sure that we can help the community assist us in safeguarding our citizens whether they are adults who may be victimized by romance scams and other types of financial crimes as well as our youth who may be victimized in sextortion cases.”
Fomby says that sextortion – a form of blackmail where someone threatens to share nude or sexual photos or videos unless someone meets their demands – has been on the rise for the last few years. In past years, sextortion occurred with someone that the victim knew or had direct access to, like someone who lived in the neighborhood or attended the same school. Fomby says that has changed.
“Now that the world has become smaller through the use of technology through messaging apps, gaming systems, and so forth, there’s a lot more access to those who may not know us. That creates a situation where our citizens, especially our youth, can be easily victimized,” he said.
The actors, or perpetrators, usually come from West African or Southeast Asian countries, stated Fomby. “They will prey upon our youth and request them to provide information such as things that expose them through explicit images or videos. They do this through catfishing, which is presenting themselves as someone who they really are not.” Additionally, they may take on an image of someone that the victim knows and present their personality as someone in the victims same age group.
When the perpetrator gains familiarity with the victim, they will usually ask the victim for photos or videos, often those that are very compromising or embarrassing for the victim, and later use them to get money from the victim. “The failure to provide money, whether it’s gift cards, cryptocurrency, actual cash transfers, or what have you, results in the threat to expose the images to family members, friends, or folks who are in their contact list.”
Fomby says this is a significant challenge for the FBI because those who are threatened by this are also embarrassed and that embarrassment leads victims to fall into the trap that is laid by the perpetrator. Fomby adds that it usually doesn’t stop with a one-time payment. He also notes that victims may feel so embarrassed that they may cause harm to themselves.
In the year 2022, the FBI received ten times the amount of reports of sexploitation in just the first half of the year compared to that same period in 2021. Across the nation, over 7,000 reported cases of sexploitation, where approximately 3,000 victims were affected, were reported for the entirety of 2022. Males between the ages of 14 and 17 were among those who were the most victimized. “We think that this may occur because individuals of that age group, especially males, are more likely to be embarrassed by having their images or videos exposed. And they see no way out.”
Fomby implores parents, adult family members, and caretakers to create a safe environment where teenagers and young adults can be vulnerable so that these perpetrators are stopped and reported to the FBI to be brought to justice. Also, it alleviates the likelihood of victims being forced, in their minds, to take the ultimate sacrifice – suicide.
To report a suspected case of sextortion, call the Jackson FBI office at (601) 948-5000, visit www.fbi.gov and type sextortion in the search engine, or visit www.cybertipline.org.
There are six allied FBI offices throughout the state in Gulfport, Pascagoula, Hattiesburg, Oxford, Southaven, and Columbus.