Law enforcement officials are warning of the rising threat of online "sextortion" targeting both adults and teens.
The Spring Hill Police Department issued a news release on Monday that said that they have taken several reports of the crime over the past few months that they said targeted teens.
"Sextortion" is when someone, often a young person, is convinced to digitally send explicit videos or images of themselves to someone else who then uses that explicit content, including the threat of publicly releasing that content, as a form of extortion against the victim.
"In our cases the suspect will threaten to send the illicit video to family members unless the victim pays the suspect not to," the SHPD news release reads.
SHPD did not provide any additional details about their specific cases that were cited.
In 2019 the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched the #StopSextortion campaign, a public service effort aimed at middle school and high school students, which includes resources for parents and students.
“These predators are really good at targeting youth,” FBI Special Agent Kiffa Shirley said in the news release.
“Young people don’t seem to have an on-guard mentality when it comes to strangers contacting them through the Internet," Shirley continued. “And many teens feel less inhibited about sharing online.”
The Brentwood Police Department has also seen similar crimes.
"We've seen more reports in the past year than we probably have ever seen for those types of crimes, so we have seen an increase, and it does seem to mainly be juveniles," BPD Assistant Police Chief Richard Hickey said in a phone call, although he added that they've also seen adult be victimized as well.
Law enforcement encourage parents to have conversations with their teens about the threat of sextortion, and the potential consequences of losing control of where those images or videos could end up.
They also urge parents to be understanding if their child comes to them with with information about an incident.
"Make sure they know that if this happens to them and they do send video/image, they are not in trouble, they are the victim," the SHPD news release reads. "They may be embarrassed or scared to come to you and tell you what happened."
Law enforcement ask that the public report all sextortion attempts to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTip line as well as to their local law enforcement agency.