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ALBUQUERQUE — The number of sextortion incidents reported to the FBI in New Mexico since Jan. 1 is on track to surpass last year’s total, reinforcing the need for parents, guardians and teenagers to be aware of this growing online danger.

So far in 2022, the Albuquerque FBI Division has received 107 reports involving allegations of an individual convincing another person, usually a teenager, to engage in explicit activity over social media applications.

This activity is secretly captured by the predator and used to extort money, additional sexual material, or other things of value from the victim.

Oftentimes, the predator has numerous victims but has evaded law enforcement attention due to the stigma many teens attach to reporting their victimization.

In 2021, the field office had a total of 126 reports, with 44 coming between January and May 2021.

“Few crimes are as damaging and traumatic to a young person as sextortion,” Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda said. “Victims may feel embarrassed and be reluctant to come forward. They and their parents or guardians need to know it’s not their fault. The only way we are going to catch these perpetrators and keep them from harming others is for their victims to contact us.”

Anyone who is a victim of sextortion or has information about this crime is urged to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or tips.fbi.gov.

The Albuquerque FBI Division created a Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force in April 2020, comprised of representatives from the FBI, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office, New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, New Mexico State Police and Albuquerque Police Department.

Sextortion usually begins when an adult contacts a minor over an online platform used to meet and communicate, such as a game, app or social media account.

In a scheme that has recently become more prevalent, the predator (posing as someone of a similar age) uses deception and manipulation to convince a juvenile, usually aged 14-17, to engage in explicit activity and send videos or images, which are then secretly saved by the predator.

The predator then reveals they have the images or videos and attempts to extort money, additional material, other things of value, or use of their account from the victim in return for not posting the sexual material online.

Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) carries heavy penalties, which can include up to life sentences for the offender.

To make the victimization stop, children typically have to come forward to someone — normally a parent, teacher, caregiver or law enforcement. The embarrassment children feel from the activity they were forced to engage in is what typically prevents them from coming forward.

Sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims around the world, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify the offender may prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation to that victim and others.

The FBI provides the following tips to protect yourself online:

• Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.

• Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.

• Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.

• Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.

• For parents and guardians: Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:

• Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.

• Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online; it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.

More information about sextortion can be found at www.fbi.gov/news/stories/stop-sextortion-youth-face-risk-online-090319.