'Inside the FBI' offers help to victims of sextortion

Tuesday , July 21, 2015 - 9:00 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN – The FBI launched a series of podcasts and informational videos this month to reach out to victims of sextortion.

One of the videos defines sextortion as “a serious crime when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.” Often the victims are teenage girls.

Mollie Halpern, the FBI podcast’s spokeswoman, reported the Bureau receives “a growing number” of sextortion cases. The FBI partners with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to bring awareness to the issue. They believe “the crime often goes unreported.”

Experts at the FBI suggest three things youth can do to avoid becoming a victim: (1) never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, (2) do not open email attachments from people you do not know, and (3) turn off your electronic devices, especially those with a camera, when you are not using them.

The FBI also produced an informational brochure in July that lists what sextortion is, how it happens, how it relates to sexting, resources for victims, who is at risk, recent cases, and ways to protect against sextortion.

Likely if you are a victim of sextortion, you are not the only one. Often the perpetrator targets many victims. Speaking up could not only save yourself, but others the person is harassing as well. The FBI advised victims to “not be afraid to talk to an adult or call the FBI.”

The “Inside the FBI” podcast released Sextortion and the Lucas Chansler Case on July 9 to illustrate how one person often targets many victims. “Chansler used 135 different online IDs to conceal his identify and location,” Halpern said. “Forensic analysis of his computer revealed that he had about 80,000 images and videos of child pornography.” Chansler victimized an estimated 350 girls across the United States, Canada, and the U.K. He also released almost 50 images to Internet sites where pedophiles seek child pornography. Chansler is now serving a 105 year sentence in a federal prison.

Larry Meyer, the agent over the Chansler case, believes they have identified 109 victims. “Our goal is to identify these remaining victims so they can be advised that this chapter in their life is over and he’ll never be back to antagonize them again,” Meyer said. “Just the psychological effect on so many of these victims, it’s just indescribable and very, very sad.”

Sextortion is a federal crime. Most cases take place over the Internet and include victims in multiple states. The FBI seeks to help victims receive their due rights and services. “It’s imperative that they understand that they are victims,” Meyer said. “It’s imperative that they talk to a parent, a teacher, a counselor.”

None of the victims the FBI found in the Chansler case were from Utah. However the biggest problem in sextortion cases is the victims do not report the crime. Utah is not immune to the problems of sexting, sextortion, child pornography, and other child sexual abuse issues. Recent cases involving sextortion in Utah include:

• Daniel Roberts, 35, from Emery County, charged with sexual exploitation of a minor in February 2015. Roberts claimed police conducted an illegal search to find child pornography in his possession, but the Utah Supreme court ruled against Roberts’ claim.

• Travis James Banner, 25, was booked into Weber County Jail for 60 images and 11 videos of child pornography found in his position in September 2014.

• A cyber stalker in St. George in February 2011 sought photos from 18-year-old Cylie Santiago. Santiago now speaks out to help victims get help.

Fox 13 reported in October 2014 the growing potential in Utah for sexting to lead to child porn access. The FBI warns that sending any compromising picture poses a risk to exposure and sextortion in the future.

Meyer offered four tips for teens to avoid becoming a victim of sextortion:

(1) The information you find online may not be true. The person you think you are connecting with may not be who they say they are.

(2) Don’t post any pictures of yourself online that you wouldn’t show to your grandmother. Never send pictures to strangers.

(3) If you are being targeted by an online predator, tell someone. There are resources available including: a parent, a trusted teacher or counselor, the FBI, the local police, or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline.

(4) Parents will understand so do not be afraid or embarrassed to talk to them.

The FBI has provided many ways for victims to reach out. If you have any information about a sextortion case you can fill out the FBI’s confidential questionnaire at www.fbi.gov. Or submit a confidential e-mail to FBI.VICTIMASSISTANCE@ic.fbi.gov. You can also dial 1-800-CALL-FBI or reach out to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

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