HOUSTON — There's a new twist on an old crime -- online predators using sexually explicit photos to blackmail their victims.
Now, the photos are fake and the victims are kids.
It happened to a Houston boy last week. To protect her son, KHOU will identify the boy's mother as “Jasmine,” although that’s not her real name.
Jasmine said that last week her 17-year-old got a Snapchat from a girl claiming to have mutual friends with him and wanted to follow him on his private Instagram page. Then, she asked for a picture of his face, which he sent, only to get it sent back minutes later doctored, where he appeared to be naked.
“And said, ‘If you don’t send me money, I am posting this to all of these contacts, which included teachers and coaches,” Jasmine said.
Jasmine said the doctored photo looked realistic, “very much so. Had I not known it was fabricated, I would’ve not known,” she said.
At first, Jasmine’s son tried to pay the scammer off by transferring $200 in gift cards he received for his birthday. But then, the scammer wanted his banking account information, so the teen went to his parents for help because Jasmine said he was, “In a complete panic. Frightened. It’s embarrassing, he felt taken advantage of and scammed.”
Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers Houston, said this past month she’s heard from at least eight Houston-area moms going through the same thing. All the victims have been teenage boys.
“It’s money-motivated sextortion," Mankarious said.
The predators appear to have mutual acquaintances or pretend to be a coach from other sports teams, asking for innocent, seemingly benign photos.
“But they are taking those photos and they are manipulating them, creating highly sexualized, sometimes pornographic, content and then using it for extortion and blackmail,” Mankarious said.
What should children and parents know about sextortion?
Crime Stoppers recommends victims do the following:
- Stop all commutations.
- Document everything.
- Do not give them money or meet any other demands.
- Report it to the FBI, Internet Crimes Against Children and local officials.
- Post on social media that this has happened to warn other contacts.
- Talk honestly with your kids.
“Getting them to understand the big picture of these threats,” Mankarious said. “Getting them to understand that you are their greatest friend and ally, and you have their back no matter what.”
Jasmine did all these things, and so far, the threats have just been threats. But it’s been a hard week for her family and a hard lesson that kids shouldn’t have to learn.
“There is no justice,” Jasmine said. “There’s just no justice for these kids.”