Genesee Corporation, Michigan (WNEM) Scrolling through social media multiple times a day is a routine for most teens.
“I would love to see what people post about their lives and totally what they do,” said 14-year-old Asia Gray.
The 8th grade Goodrich Middle School student loves to post photos and videos on Instagram and TikTok.
“You want them to be teens, but you also have to watch everything they do, and sometimes it looks a little sexy or too sexy, maybe for their age,” said Kimberly Gray, Asia’s mother.
Teens like Asia have become a prime target of the so-called sugar parents on social media.
“I guess, where did they come from? How are you calling my baby,” Kimberly Gray asks.
Kimberly Gray’s daughter Asia has over 100 messages from both men and women asking for the same thing. They want to know if a teen will be what they call a sugar baby. In return, they promise to send large sums of money.
“They will say they just like a conversation and they don’t want anything inappropriate from you or that they won’t do anything to hurt you. Some offer like $1,000 a week or twice a week,” Asia Gray said.
Kimberly worries that a child who might be in a circumstance where he can use the money will agree to the terms offered. She has developed a system with all of her daughters whenever sugar daddy or sugar mama calls them.
“They come and tell me every single time and then I would like to see it because first, I want to make sure no one I know and second, I just want to see their face, so I have that on my mind. Then I tell them, block that person, and delete any message,” Kimberly Gray said. They sent it to you.”
This is exactly what every parent should do, says Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson.
“I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve had from people I know personally, whose children were involved and panicked because they were being blackmailed,” Swanson said.
On April 19, the Detroit FBI warned of an increase in sexual extortion schemes targeting young boys.
The warning said it was sexual blackmail. It begins when an adult contacts a minor via an online platform for communication. The predator uses deception and manipulation to persuade a younger person, usually 13-17 years old, to engage in frank activity. They ask the teen to send nude photos or videos that often promise money but then extort the teen for money to prevent him from posting the material online or sharing it with his family members.
“By the time that happens, it’s happening at a rapid pace because these predators, they’re going to put you under a lot of pressure,” Swanson said.
A teenager from the Upper Peninsula committed suicide six hours after posting his first nude photo last month.
Marquette County investigators believe 17-year-old Jordan de Mai sent nude photos of himself via Instagram in exchange for the photos sent to him. DeMay thinks he was talking to a teenage girl.
The person on the other end asked DeMay to send $1,000, or the photos would go to family and friends. When DeMay only managed to get $300, he committed suicide.
Hours after his death, the Marquette County Sheriff said a friend of DeMay received one of the suspicious photos. That friend called DeMay’s parents, who then told detectives.
“It’s all about money and exploitation. They don’t care about the sender. They don’t care about the person being photographed. They don’t live 50 miles away from you. They live in other countries. They don’t even speak your language, but that’s their profession. They master the craft.” Swanson said.
Swanson and his team of investigators have made it their business to arm themselves with the latest technology and software to remove as much information as possible from the victim’s phone.
Captain Karanen Nelson in the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office has been extensively trained in mobile forensic examination. She says extracting information is a race against time. Criminals will try to remotely wipe the victim’s phone. She had to use an armored box to prevent signals from being sent to and from the victim’s phone while extracting evidence from it.
“As a mum of 14, when you start talking to your daughter about things she sees as a professional, I started talking to her years ago and she knows that part of getting her cell phone and getting any social media account case,” Nelson said. From her father’s case and I’m browsing through it and I have passcodes for things.”
With all the tools in law enforcement’s arsenal, Nelson says, the best defense isn’t an armored box or the latest software, but instead a parent starting a conversation with their child.
The FBI provides the following tips to protect you and your children online:
- Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, the scammer may be able to discover a lot of information about you or your children.
- Be wary of anyone you meet for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone on the Internet. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is what they claim to be.
- Be careful if you meet someone in a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Encourage your children to report the suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
“I’m glad I’m on good terms with my mom, because I feel more comfortable telling her and I know I wouldn’t get in trouble if I was going to do something bad. She knows I’m being honest, she can trust me and like I can come to her if I need help,” said Asia Gray. “.
Kimberly says she knows her kids aren’t perfect, and she tells them she doesn’t expect them to be perfect.
“I hope that parents can make their children feel comfortable enough to come to them so that they do not fall victim to this at all. I think this is very important,” Kimberly Gray said.
You can learn more about sexual blackmail from the FBI click here.
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