Advice

16-Year-Old Schoolboy Dies After Sextortion Scam Targets Him at Home

Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of suicide and self-harm.

A 16-year-old schoolboy has died after being caught up in an online sextortion scam. He met a girl online and thought they had hit it off. Their banter was flirty and romantic, and she sent him a racy, intimate picture of herself, so the young boy sent her some back.

Suddenly, things took a swift nosedive. The tone of the conversation went from youthful flirtation to high-pressure demands and threats. The ‘girl’ threatened to send the images to the young boy’s family and friends if he didn’t pay her $500 in online gift cards.

He was harassed, hounded, and pressured to give in. Hours later, the young boy committed suicide.

Police investigate sextortion scam

The young boy’s death (who won’t be identified at the request of his family) was investigated by the police. Usually, these investigations provide evidence for the Coroner’s Court to answer the unexpected death.

However, the investigation got serious when police unlocked the boy’s phone and discovered the extortion. The case was referred to the State Crime Command’s cybercrime squad.

What police found was that once initial contact was established, the scammers had quickly learned as much as they could about their target to make the boy believe they could and would release the explicit photos to his family and friends. They had tracked his contacts’ profiles on social media, and it was this that unfortunately led the boy to believe them enough that he took his own life.


What is sextortion?

NSW police have recorded a nearly 400% increase in reported sextortion scams in the last 18 months. They say it’s partly because schools, families, and other organisations are trying to educate teens about this heinous crime.

Sextortion scams are a relatively new way of extorting money from people. They are different from romance scams, but both prey on vulnerable people, and both use people’s emotions against them.

A sextortion scam involves threatening to expose intimate or explicit content of the victim unless they meet the scammer’s demands, such as paying a ransom or performing specific actions. The scammer typically claims to have obtained compromising material through hacking or accessing the victim’s devices or pretending to be a romantic interest.

This coercion can involve sending money, purchasing gift cards, or engaging in further explicit activities. The threats can be highly distressing, with the scammer often threatening to share the material with the victim’s contacts if they don’t comply.

schoolboy dies after sextortion scam teenager
Anyone can be scammed through sextortion. Even our kids. Source: Bigstock

The sextortion scam ‘playbook’

There is a standard method used by these scammers that parents need to be aware of. Here’s how they scam innocent victims using sextortion, including children:

  1. Unsolicited friend requests from a stranger
  2. Friendly banter to establish a rapport
  3. Sexualised questions to test their target’s interests
  4. Use various apps to find their target’s friends and family
  5. Sexualised images are sent from the fake profile
  6. Requests for their target to reciprocate and send ‘nudes’.
  7. Immediate demands for money and threats to expose the images

Digital footprints lead to arrest

Cybercrime detectives followed the digital footprints to Nigeria. The case was picked up by the Joint Policing Cybercrime Coordination Centre (JPC3). The JPC3 used its connections with the FBI and the Australian Federal Police’s South African outpost and narrowed down on the scammer’s trail.

They found the culprits were a Nigerian duo who lived in an immense slum area of Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.

The sextortion of young people is indeed a borderless crime. The perpetrators use multiple online platforms and a scattered approach by asking for small sums from numerous victims.

Unfortunately, the two men arrested will only face court for the attempted extortion and not the young boy’s death. However, the men have yet to be convicted or enter pleas. The Nigerian prison system is notably harsh, and justice was the best the authorities could offer the Aussie boy’s grieving family. The family is said to be pleased someone has been arrested.

schoolboy dies after sextortion scam scammer
Source: Bigstock

Other devastating sextortion cases involving teen boys

This case is scarily similar to other young boys who fell victim to the same scam.

Canadians Robin Janjua and William Doiron and American Jordan DeMay were all hounded in the same way and also sadly took their own lives.

In the case of Doiron, the scammers posted his pictures on Instagram in October 2022.


Talking to our kids about online safety

The schoolboy’s family has said they had all the right conversations with their boy about online safety. They even recall having one about sextortion. They questioned why he didn’t come and talk to them about what was happening, and they wondered what they could have done before he was targeted. The police were able to reassure the family that their son wasn’t explicitly targeted.

So, what can parents do?

1. Have awkward conversations. Educate yourself. This type of scam is happening, and it’s targeting young, vulnerable people who don’t think before they act.

2. Start with trust: Begin the conversation by emphasising that you’re there to support and help them, not to judge or criticise. Tell them you want to discuss something serious because you care about their safety.

3. Educate about risks: Explain what online sextortion is in simple terms. Describe how it typically involves someone threatening to share intimate or embarrassing images or messages unless the victim provides more explicit content or money. Make sure they understand that this is a form of manipulation and blackmail.

4. Provide real-life examples: Share news stories or examples of cases where teens have been victims of sextortion, like this one. This can help them understand that it’s a real threat and not something abstract or unlikely to happen to them.

5. Emphasise consent and boundaries: Stress the importance of never sharing intimate photos, videos, or messages with anyone online, even if they trust them. Make it clear that they lose control once something is sent online, and it could be used against them.

6. Discuss privacy and security measures: Teach them how to adjust privacy settings on social media platforms and messaging apps to control who can see their content. Encourage them to use strong, unique passwords and enable two-factor authentication to protect their accounts.

7. Encourage communication: Let them know you are there if they ever feel uncomfortable or pressured online. Encourage them to come to you or another trusted adult without fear of punishment or judgment. Assure that you will support them and work together to find a solution.

8. Reassure without minimising: While it’s essential to reassure them that they can come to you for help, avoid downplaying the seriousness of sextortion. Make it clear that it’s a serious crime with real consequences for both the victim and the perpetrator.

9. Stay updated together: Technology and online threats evolve rapidly, so make sure to stay informed about the latest trends and risks together. This can help maintain an ongoing dialogue about online safety.

10. Follow up: Check in with them regularly to see how they’re navigating the online world and if they have any concerns or questions. Let them know that you’re always available to talk and provide support.

Online safety is a joint effort between parents and their children. Don’t be afraid to talk about uncomfortable subjects. Be vigilant and encourage open communication and trust with your teens. Be aware of the dangers, and check in if you notice your teen acting out of character.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact:
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander crisis support line 13YARN on 13 92 76
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Headspace on 1800 650 890
ReachOut at au.reachout.com
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

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Avatar of Tina Evans

Tina Evans is a complete introvert, an avid reader of romance novels, horror novels and psychological thrillers. She’s a writer, movie viewer, and manager of the house menagerie: three kelpies, one cat, a fish, and a snake. She loves baking and cooking and using her kids as guinea pigs. She was a teenage parent and has learned a lot in twenty-three years of parenting. Tina loves Christmas and would love to experience a white Christmas once in her life. Aside from writing romance novels, she is passionate about feminism, equality, sci-fi, action movies and doing her part to help the planet.

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