GENESEE CO., Mich. (WNEM) – Scrolling through social media several times a day is routine for most teenagers.
“I like to see what people are posting about their lives and just like what they’re doing,” said 14-year-old Asia Gray.
The Goodrich Middle School eighth grader likes to post pictures and videos to Instagram and TikTok.
“You want them to be teens, but you also have to keep an eye on everything they do and sometimes it looks a little provocative or too sexy, maybe for their age,” said Asia’s mother Kimberly Gray.
Teenagers like Asia have become a prime target for what are called social media sugar daddies.
“I think like, where do they come from? How are you contacting my child,” asks Kimberly Gray.
Kimberly Gray’s daughter Asia has more than 100 messages from both men and women all asking the same thing. They want to know if the teen will be what they call their sugar baby. In return, they promise to send large sums of money.
“They’ll say that they just want like a conversation and they don’t want anything inappropriate from you or they are not going to do anything to harm you. Some offer like $1,000 a week or twice a week,” said Asia Gray.
Kimberly worries that a child who might be in a circumstance where they could use the money would agree to the terms being offered. She has developed a system with all her daughters whenever they are contacted by a sugar daddy or sugar mama.
“They come and tell me every time and then I like to see because first, I want to make sure it’s nobody that I know and then second, I just want to see their face, so I have it in my brain. Then I tell them, block that person, and delete any message they sent you,” said Kimberly Gray.
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson says that’s exactly what every parent should be doing.
“I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve gotten from people that I know personally, whose kids got involved and they’re panicked because they are being extorted,” Swanson said.
On April 19, the FBI Detroit office warned of an increase in sextortion schemes targeting young boys.
The warning said it’s sextortion. It begins when an adult contacts a minor over an online platform to communicate. The predator uses deception and manipulation to convince a younger person usually 13 to 17 years old to engage in explicit activity. They ask the teen to send nude photos or videos often promising money but then extort the teen for money to prevent them from posting the materials online or sharing them with their family members.
“By the time it happens, it’s happening at a rapid pace because these predators, they will put you under so much pressure,” Swanson said.
An Upper Peninsula teen took his own life six hours after sending his first nude photo last month.
Marquette County investigators believe 17-year-old Jordan DeMay sent nude pictures of himself over Instagram in return for pictures sent to him. DeMay believed he was talking with a teenage girl.
The person on the other end demanded DeMay send $1,000, or the pictures would go to family and friends. When DeMay could only come up with $300, he took his own life.
Hours after his death the Marquette County sheriff says a friend of DeMay’s received one of the compromising photos. That friend contacted DeMay’s parents who then told investigators.
“It’s all about money and exploiting. They don’t care about the sender. They don’t care about the one who’s being photographed. They don’t live 50 miles from you. They live in other countries. They don’t even speak your language, but this is their craft. They master this craft. This is their business,” Swanson said.
Swanson and his team of detectives have made it their business to arm themselves with the latest technology and software to remove as much information as they possibly can from a victim’s phone.
Genesee County Sheriff’s Office Captain Kariann Nelson is extensively trained in mobile forensics examination. She says extracting information is a race against the clock. Criminals will try and remotely wipe a victim’s phone. She’s had to use an armored box to block signals transmitting to and from a victim’s phone while she extracts evidence from it.
“As a mom who has a 14-year-old, when you start talking to your daughter about the stuff that you see as a professional, I started talking to her years ago and she knows that part of getting her cell phone and having any sort of social media account was a condition of her dad and I going through it and having the passcodes to things,” Nelson said.
Nelson says with all the tools in law enforcement’s arsenal, the best defense isn’t an armored box or the latest software, but instead a parent starting a dialogue 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, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you or your children.
- Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
- Be aware people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone on a game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
- Encourage your children to report suspicious behavior to a trusted adult.
“I’m just kind of glad that I have a good relationship with my mom, because like then I feel more comfortable telling her and I know I won’t be in trouble if I were to do something bad. She knows I’m being honest, and she can trust me and like I can come to her if I need help,” said Asia Gray.
Kimberly says she knows her children aren’t perfect, and she lets them know she doesn’t expect them to be perfect.
“I hope that parents can make their children feel comfortable enough to come to them so they don’t fall victim to this ever. I think that’s super important,” Kimberly Gray said.
You can learn more about sextortion from the FBI by clicking here.
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