FBI warns of sextortion scams, victim shares terrifying story
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - There’s a new warning from the FBI about an online scheme targeting kids and teenagers.
Agents from the New Orleans Division have seen an increase in sextortion cases across the state. This is a crime where someone is blackmailed or threatened over explicit photos or videos online.
Allison Bello, a Lake Charles native, said she was a victim of this crime a few years ago when she was 17.
“It was an Instagram DM that had my name with a question mark by it,” said Bello.
Bello said she was curious to what this random account wanted, so she responded, but she was quickly flooded with threats. The person on the other end of the screen somehow got a hold of some private photos she had taken but never sent to anyone else.
”They sent the pictures of myself, and they had video recordings I had taken, and they sent all of it to me and they told me it would be released to everybody,” said Bello.
The person messaged her Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok accounts, and gave no reason why they were threatening expose her. That’s when Bello decided to tell her parents and call police.
“I told my mom I did a stupid thing she told me not to do, and now it’s come back. I needed her help,” said Bello.
According to the FBI, sextortion can start on any site, app, or game where people meet and communicate. In some cases, the first contact from the criminal will be a threat. The person may claim they already have a revealing picture or video that they will share if the victim does not send more pictures or money.
“Often times the subject portrays themselves to be around the age of the victim, and they would often times develop some type of relationship in most instances, and then there would be some type of trading of explicit materials,” said Supervisory Special Agent Charles Koger.
Koger said that’s when the person strikes.
”Typically that’s when the subject would then start to exploit the victim and threaten to expose those images to their family, their friends, in exchange for additional sexual material or money,” said Koger.
Koger said they have been traveling around the state to educate parents and teens about the dangers of sextortion and how to prevent it.
”From the parent’s perspective, they just don’t know. They just didn’t grow up in the age of digital media like what we have now,” said Koger.
Koger said you should be selective about what you share online, and ignore any message you get from strangers.
He said parents need to have those tough and uncomfortable talks to make sure their message is getting across.
”Just being blunt and explaining to them the dangers and the risks associated with the various social media platforms that they may allow their children to be on. Just bringing awareness to it is the biggest and most important issue in my mind,” said Koger.
”I did not deserve to go through whatever I went through. Nobody deserves to go through it nonetheless,” said Bello.
In Bello’s case, her pictures were never leaked, and the person was never caught. She said it could have turned out worse, but she hopes people will hear her story and learn from her mistake.
”The internet is a very scary place unless it’s taken very seriously,” said Bello.
For more information and tips on how to stay safe, click here.
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