September 27, 2022

Sextortion is on the rise in Cibolo, police say.
CIBOLO — A rising number of online scammers are targeting youths in Cibolo through what’s become known as “sextortion” — coercing them through social media to produce sexual images or videos then extorting them for money. In such cases, perpetrators threaten to release those explicit images online if they’re not paid.
Officer Richard Mireles, public information officer with the Cibolo Police Department, said reports of sextortion used to be rare but that the department has seen their frequency increase to several times a month.
“It is a digital age,” Mireles said. “Social media and apps are how young people meet each other nowadays, but people need to be careful because who they think they are talking to may not be who is behind the computer or phone.”
The rise in sextortion reported in Cibolo, a small city just northeast of San Antonio, mirrors a regional and national trend, according to the FBI. In May, the FBI’s San Antonio division warned parents to monitor their children’s online communications after they reported receiving increasing numbers of sextortion reports in the area.
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The scheme has become “increasingly more prevalent,” and the concern is that there are many more cases that don’t get reported to the police due to embarrassment or fear, according to the FBI.
Many victims of sextortion are in their teens and early 20s, and most are male, said Mireles. The victims believe they are communicating with someone their own age who is interested in a relationship with them, and they will either send explicit photos or agree to commit explicit acts on camera.
The scammer will then demand a “small” payment — generally $500 to $1,000 — to not release the intimate photos or videos. And even when the victim pays, the offender usually continues demanding more and more money.
“We advise victims not to pay, tell a trusted adult and come make a police report,” Mireles said. “But also know that these scammers mean business, and you have to be prepared that they will likely carry out their threat. They will bleed you dry and then still likely release the photos anyways.”
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Officials are seeing the scheme being carried out via popular social media platforms like Snapchat or Instagram, but also via games such as Roblox or Minecraft.
“It used to be that you had to watch for danger over your shoulder in a dark parking lot, but now you need to be careful in your home because you are letting people into your life through a computer screen,” Mireles said.
If caught, such a scammer can face a year in jail on a state felony charge of unlawful promotion of visual material or a life sentence for coercion of child sexual abuse materials. But making an arrest in a sextortion case can be very difficult; often scammers use false IP addresses and/or screen names, and they may not live in the same countries as their victims.
Mireles said the best way to avoid becoming a victim of sextortion is to refrain from sending intimate photos to anyone, even if they know who they are communicating with because “once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever.”
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Officials recommend that internet users be selective about what they share online, especially with personal information and passwords, and social media accounts that are open to everyone can make it easier to figure out personal information.
Officials also advised being wary of strangers who want to message with users online, especially ones who want to start talking on a different social media app than where they met. People should be aware that anyone can lie about who they are online even if they send videos or photos as “proof.”
Anyone who believes they are a victim of sextortion should contact the FBI’s San Antonio division at 210-225-6741, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.
Taylor Pettaway is a breaking news reporter, originally from Colorado. She has degrees in journalism and criminology. Follow her @TaylorPettaway.


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