It’s one of the fastest-growing threats to children between the ages of 13 and 18, despite warnings from multiple law enforcement agencies including the FBI.
The agency defines 'Sextortion' as a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them with images of a sexual nature, sexual favors or money.
Special Agent Vicki Anderson with the Cleveland FBI Office says the predators will also often threaten to harm the target, their friends and family members unless they cooperate and comply with their demands.
The interaction usually starts out seemingly harmless with messages exchanged in a chat rooms or on social media sites.
But very quickly the relationship escalates with flirting and inappropriate comments.
The suspect will obtain private information and photos from the target and then begin making demands.
Sometimes the perpetrator will even hack into a computer and steal the pictures or secretly record the victim through the web camera.
Agent Anderson says all technology should be turned off when not in use because those pictures and videos can be edited and doctored, then used to blackmail the child.'
“We lock our doors at night, but do we turn off the computer?!” Anderson said.
Just last year in Cuyahoga county, investigators say 42-year-old Chris O’Banion terrified and tortured a Northeast Ohio teenager, forcing her to perform unthinkable sex acts inside her home while her parents were just feet away.
The girl was too scared to tell anyone but her parents eventually found out and called police.
O'Banion was arrested and convicted, but committed suicide before starting his sentence.
But agents say the suspects aren’t always adults or even strangers; sometimes the criminals are classmates or acquaintances of the victims.
In 2013, Jared James pleaded guilty to hacking into multiple girls' computers in a “sextortion plot” that included a former classmate and the then Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.
A Wisconsin teen named Anthony Stancl was a high school senior when he baited dozens of boys posing as a female on Facebook and then forced them to send naked pictures and perform sex acts.
Agent Anderson says now more than ever it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s computers and cell phones.
She says never take or share risque photos and be careful sharing private information online.
Parents also need to keep the lines of communication open with their children, and make sure they feel safe sharing any inappropriate messages or threats they’ve received or sent before things escalate.
And Agent Anderson says, “It always escalates.”