What is a sextortion, and how can I protect my child?

Sextortions are forms of sexual exploitation and financial scams where a criminal tries to get money (extort) from you by threatening to share your intimate photos or videos.

This type of extortion or blackmail can happen to anyone of any age but according to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, youths (tweens and teenagers), especially boys, are the most affected in Canada. Predators use social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, iMessage, WhatsApp, websites, and gaming platforms to find their victims. The information in this article is to help keep your children safe from cyber extortions and ways to speak to them about these online dangers.

How Sextortion Happens

A sextortion starts with the exchange of sexual content. An adult offender tricks the youth into sending a sexual photo or video of themselves by posing as another youth. The offender initiates chat through technology like text or direct messaging of an app. and tries to build instant trust. This can take place over several hours, but in some cases in as little as within minutes. The offender will start by sharing a sexually explicit photo first so that the targeted youth will send a nude, sexual photo or video of themselves. They can also trick the youth into doing a live stream or Facetime video where they are recorded without their knowledge. 

Immediately after the perpetrator gets the image or video of the victim, they start to make demands for money by intimidating the victim into thinking that if they don’t pay, the criminal will leak the images to their friends and family. The offender may even share screenshots of the content to the youth and other information like screenshots of their contacts or personal information (home address, school etc) to terrify the youth. If the youth gives in, the criminal will continue to ask for more money or sexual material.

According to Cybertips.ca, a Canadian tipline for reporting online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, other tactics sextorters use are:

  • tricking the youth into sending sexual content by offering them a gift or money 
  • targeting siblings or friends connected to the victim
  • threatening to ruin the victim’s life or hurt their family or pets if they don’t do what the criminal says
  • creating several accounts to appear like more than one person is targeting the youth
  • demanding youth create other accounts on social media for the sextorter to use to scam other youths
  • threatening to share the sexual image/video with a school or many schools
  • threatening to share the sexual image/video with newspapers, news outlets and TV stations

Scammers will ask for online payment from PayPal, Western Union, MoneyGram, or through online gift cards for Amazon, Google Play, Steam, and VISA. Sometimes, even direct e-transfers from bank accounts.

What can your child do if they are being sextorted?

Share this list with your child to let them know what they can do if they are being sextorted:

  • Immediately stop talking to the criminal.
  • Screenshot all of the messages you have with the sextorter because, depending on the situation, you may need to share the proof with a safe adult or police.
  • Delete and block all contact with the cybercriminal.
  • Deactivate all accounts used to communicate with the predator (all social media, forum, email and other accounts used to interact with the sextorter) Consider increasing your privacy settings and changing passwords to all other online accounts. 
  • Contact the website or app admin support  (Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp etc) to report the suspicious profile
  • Reach out for help at helpnow.ca and report it to cybertip.ca. Speak to a safe adult for support or contact the kidshelpphone.ca to text or speak to someone who can offer advice. 
  • Never pay money, and never send additional nudes. Do NOT give in to threats. In the thousands of cases Cybertip.ca has seen, responding makes the harassment worse. If you’ve already paid money, check to see if it has been collected. If it hasn’t - quickly cancel the payment
  • You don’t have to deal with sextortion on your own – it’s a lot to manage, but there are supports available to help you.

Talking to your Child about Sextortions

It's important to have ongoing, open discussions with your child about the dangers of engaging in sexual conversations with online strangers. Youths will feel a lot of guilt, shame, and fear of punishment from their parents, making it difficult for them to open up if they are being sextorted. 

You can help keep your child safe from online sexual predators by:

  • having conversations about sex, online sex and consent and keeping private information private
  • reassuring them that if they end up in a problem situation, you will always be there to support them
  • sharing media stories about how this has happened to other children 
  • showing them the list of what to do if they’re targeted
  • explaining about live streaming to reinforce that what happens during live streaming can easily be recorded by a criminal. 
  • explaining what they are seeing can easily be faked (criminals use live streaming samples of other victim youths to fake their online presence)
  • teaching them to be skeptical. If the conversation turns sexual quickly, if the other person is having problems showing themselves or “their camera isn’t working,” they should leave that conversation immediately because they are likely being scammed
  • expressing the dangers of chatting with anyone they don’t already know offline

For more tips on how to talk to your teen, read the Online Luring Tip Sheet from Cybertip.ca

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Last updated: February 14, 2024 4006603