Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.
The FBI calls what happened to California teenager Ryan Last “sextortion.”
In the aftermath of her son’s death, Pauline Stuart of San Jose used the word “evil” to describe those who preyed on the boy.
Stuart talked to CNN about the incident, which began in February when Ryan — a straight-A student and Boy Scout — was texting back and forth with someone he thought was a girl.
As one thing led to another, the person sent him a nude photo and asked for one in return.
A few hours later, Ryan would be dead.
Immediately after he sent a photo, the teen received a demand for $5,000, accompanied by a threat to send the picture to his family and friends if he did not pay up. After Ryan said he didn’t have that much money, the demand was lowered to $150, which he paid — but the scammer didn’t stop there.
“They kept demanding more and more and putting lots of continued pressure on him,” Stuart said.
She recalled that she said goodnight to her son around 10 p.m. that night. By 2 a.m. the next day, the 17-year-old had taken his life, leaving behind a note to explain what took place.
“He really, truly thought in that time that there wasn’t a way to get by if those pictures were actually posted online,” Stuart said. “His note showed he was absolutely terrified. No child should have to be that scared.”
“How could these people look at themselves in the mirror knowing that $150 is more important than a child’s life?” she said. “There’s no other word but ‘evil’ for me that they care much more about money than a child’s life.
“I don’t want anybody else to go through what we did.”
Kids are being extorted online, called SEXTORTION
🔴 They target kids, especially overachievers, athletes
🔴 They send a naked pic & ask kid to send one back
🔴 After its sent,they start blackmailing kid for 💰 or they will post it or send it to family or college pic.twitter.com/x3sBzKUJiQ
— Primetime585⭕️ (@PrimetimeBall_) May 24, 2022
The FBI said 18,000 sextortion-related complaints were filed in 2021, with losses topping $13 million. Officials also know that reported cases are the tip of the iceberg.
“The embarrassment piece of this is probably one of the bigger hurdles that the victims have to overcome,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dan Costin told CNN. “It can be a lot, especially in that moment.”
Costin said scammers in sextortion cases are often from Africa or Southeast Asia.
“To be a criminal that specifically targets children — it’s one of the more deeper violations of trust I think in society,” he said.
Law enforcement calls the scam “sextortion,” and investigators have seen an explosion in complaints from victims leading the FBI to ramp up a campaign to warn parents from coast to coast https://t.co/snxAu81Wt3
— CNN (@CNN) May 21, 2022
Teen males are very vulnerable to sextortion and have a hard time with the consequences, according to experts.
“Teen brains are still developing,” said Dr. Scott Hadland, chief of adolescent medicine at Mass General in Boston said. “So when something catastrophic happens, like a personal picture is released to people online, it’s hard for them to look past that moment and understand that in the big scheme of things they’ll be able to get through this.”
Hadland said parents need to be somewhat intrusive because there are dangers online.
“You want to make it clear that they can talk to you if they have done something or they feel like they’ve made a mistake,” he said.
This is absolutely tragic and sadly, not the first child suicide directly linked to #sextortion
Please share far and wide, wirh everyone you know who has children, so we can make this the last 😭https://t.co/bg2atMQogn
— Misty 🌻 (@sAveLivEsGoVeG) May 23, 2022
Stuart said parents must warn their children that not everything online is what it appears to be, and be there to support them.
“You need to talk to your kids because we need to make them aware of it,” she said.
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