ATLANTA — Sextortion schemes targeting teenage victims are soaring in Georgia. In fact, the FBI reports cases in the state are up 700% since 2021.
Rapidly advancing AI technology is a big component.
The FBI says they are hearing from more victims who report their personal photos and video on social media are being altered, often in a sexually explicit way.
Another common scheme: conning someone into sending a compromising picture, which is then used to blackmail them.
“After the picture is sent out, you typically get a message saying, well, now you’re going to pay me in a gift card or some sort of transaction, or we are going to send this photo to all of your friends on their own Instagram or Snapchat account,” FBI Atlanta Special Agent Thomas McAfee said.
McAfee told Regan the typical amount requested is from $50 to $200. If the victim pays, they continue to come back asking for additional payments.
The schemes can end in tragedy.
In July 2022, a sextortionist posing as a college volleyball player threatened the teenage son of a South Carolina lawmaker.
Rep. Brandon Guffey said his son, Gavin, shared an image. As soon as it happened the sextortion began.
Guffey said only an hour and a half after his son was blackmailed, he committed suicide. Guffey found him on the bathroom floor from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
One month later, the sextortionist sent the grieving father a cruel message.
“Did I tell you your son begged for his life?” Guffey said, reading the message that was sent.
Regan spoke with cybersecurity expert Willis McDonald who has investigated numerous cases of sextortion using deep fake technology.
“There’s a lot larger downside to the technology than upside. Whether it’s social media or from other sites where they can get a photo of an individual that they are targeting and use deepfake generators, using fake images or fake videos of that person to put them in a compromising position,” McDonald said.
In honor of his son, Guffey pushed through the enactment of Gavin’s Law in South Carolina.
The law makes blackmailing someone with sexually explicit photos or videos a felony.
“I want to make sure no other parent has to go through this. I want to hold those responsible, who are responsible,” Guffey said.
WSB-TV’s Tom Regan contributed to this story
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