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FBI reports ‘significant increase’ in sextortion across Mountain West

Extortion in Utah hits 5-year high

By Kyle Dunphey - Utah News Dispatch | Jan 22, 2024

Spenser Heaps, Utah News Dispatch

The downtown Salt Lake City skyline is backdropped by fresh snow on the Wasatch Mountains on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

The FBI is seeing an increase in sextortion cases across the Mountain West, while the Utah Department of Public Safety has recorded more instances of extortion and blackmail in 2023 than any year since 2019.

In Utah, cases of extortion and blackmail have been increasing for the last five years, according to state data. As of Oct. 31, 2023, the department recorded 622 instances of extortion and blackmail, more than all of 2022, and almost as much as 2021 and 2020 combined.

Meanwhile, the FBI Salt Lake City field office, which covers Utah, Montana and Idaho, says it's been receiving "dozens" of reports of sextortion each month. The bureau defines sextortion as "a crime that involves adults coercing kids and teens into sending explicit images online."

Often, the predators pretend to be young girls online who then blackmail the victim after they have convinced them to send explicit images. The FBI says the predators will sometimes threaten to notify the victim's family, school, employer or even law enforcement so the victim will send them money, or more explicit pictures.

For financial sextortion, the predators are often based outside of the country, the bureau says, including west African countries like Nigeria and Ivory Coast, or Southeast Asia.

"The increase that we're seeing, we know that's just a small portion of the cases that are actually taking place and that are not being reported to us," said FBI Special Agent Curtis Cox with the Salt Lake field office, in a recent public awareness video.

Between Oct. 2021 to March 2023, the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security received over 13,000 reports of financial sextortion of a minor involving at least 12,600 victims.

As a result, at least 20 suicides were reported, the FBI says.

"The victims are almost always young men ages 14 to 17, sometimes even as young as 12. There are kids we know of that have contemplated suicide locally, we know of kids in the area who have actually committed suicide because of sextortion," said Cox.

If you believe you are a victim or a witness of extortion, you can call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit a tip at tips.fbi.gov. For more information, visit fbi.gov/sextortion.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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