STREETSBORO, Ohio (WJW) – A Streetsboro family tragically lost their son in November. Officials say the 17-year-old was a victim of an online crisis that is targeting teenagers.
“Someone took him away from us and that angers me every single day,” said Tamia Woods, the mother of James Woods, who died by suicide in November.
Streetsboro Police Chief Patricia Wain says James Woods was a victim of sextortion.
His death left his parents grieving and heartbroken.
“We are going to do everything we can to identify the suspect,” Wain said.
She added her detectives are working with Homeland Security.
“We start looking at usernames, and IP addresses to try and track down where the money may have gone, where the images may have gone,” Wain said. “We do this to track who is doing it, and it is a very large process.”
Officials believe the suspect, in this case, may live thousands of miles away.
“What we are finding is a lot of this is coming from the Gold Coast or Nigeria,” Wain said. “Most of these cases start on social media. It starts out with maybe a gaming app, a messaging app, it can be your Instagram, Snapchat, and they will have somebody send a friend request them. Then conversations start. What we are finding is we will have a grown adult male acting as a teenage female or same-age peer.”
Wain said the victim thinks they have an “online relationship” and the suspect in some cases then starts sending nude photographs and asks the victim for the same.
“Once our bad guy has those images it turns into the actual sextortion part,” Wain said. “It’s a job to them. They will send dozens and dozens of texts demanding money.”
In Woods’ case, the suspect threatened to send photographs of the teen to people on his friends list if he didn’t send money.
“After James died, the bad guy in this case was still pushing it,” the chief said. “He was still reaching out and threatening one of his friends to send money. He didn’t care that this child had taken his life over this. That wasn’t a thing to them. It’s just money.”
The FBI says Woods was one of the thousands of boys nationwide that was a victim of online crime in 2022. FBI officials also say more than a dozen suicides nationwide in 2022 were linked to sextortion.
“The most vulnerable age group is 10-17 for us,” said Gregory Nelsen, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland Field Office. “We have seen cases as young as 7.”
State and Federal officials say the crime is drastically underreported because many victims remain silent of out fear and embarrassment.
“Once we had the case that made the news with Mr. Woods, we did get a couple more reports,” Wain said. “I don’t think we would have heard from those victims had there not been a huge push to get that information out there.” Law enforcement officials urge any victims of sextortion to report it as soon as possible.
“Report early,” Nelsen says. “Stop talking to these people and let law enforcement take action.”