The U.S. Attorney says more children than ever before are being lied to online and eventually it leads to sexually explicit photos, threats, and even sex.
In recent years, the crime of sextortion has been on the rise and the U.S. Attorney's office says more people using the internet during the pandemic is making children even more vulnerable.
Sextortion is child exploitation where victims are coerced into sending sexually explicit images or videos to child predators. On Friday, victims stood up to warn others about what happened to them.
U.S. Attorney Matt Schneider says sextortion crimes have been on the rise in recent years and, during the pandemic, more children and teens are online than ever before.
"You know what that means - when we have more children online? That means we have more predators online," he said.
According to the FBI, victims of sextortion are usually found on social media. Often the predator pretends to be young, establishes a romantic relationship then convinces the child or teen to send sexually explicit photos and then threatens to share them unless they send more.
"We've seen predators going after children that they perceive are bored or lonely or vulnerable or who want attention."
Many of these threats turned even darker with predators blackmailing children or teens and convincing them to meet for sex.
This is what Allen Park Police Detective Jim Thornburn said happened last month when Anthony Hodges, a 35-year-old man from Pontiac, had a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old Allen Park girl and even exposed her to HIV.
Thornburn said they met on Snapchat.
"The social media apps they can be used for good or for evil," he said. "He found her due to the location sharing ability of Snapchat. That's how he was able to pinpoint her home."
The FBI reminds parents that young people don't have the same on-guard mentality when it comes to strangers contacting them through the Internet. While children may be more trusting and can be more easily manipulated, nobody is blaming them for what adults are doing.
"No one is to blame except the criminal. No one is to blame except a predator himself or herself."
Schneider is encouraging parents to be aware and notice if your child is withdrawn or depressed. Parents should,also monitor internet usage - or block certain sites and apps, and remind them not to accept friend requests from strangers...
Schneider says a tool that is proving to work: a hotline called ok2say, it's a confidential way students can report crimes or suspicious activity