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FBI: Sextortion targets the most vulnerable kids

Posted: 7:23 AM, Sep 22, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-22 11:23:08Z

We are protecting this mother's identity to protect her child.

"I tried to be proactive about keeping them safe. I never imagined it could happen to my kid," she said through tears.

Her eldest, then 14, beautiful, carefree and a star athlete ended up a victim of 'sextortion.'  It is an insidious blackmail scheme where a man studied, stalked and finally stole her innocence.

"We are actually looking at hundreds of thousands of kids that one perpetrator could be victimizing at the same time," said David Couvertier with the Tampa FBI Field Office.  "It is a sickness that has no end, the more they get the more they want."

This growing problem largely exposed after a case broke wide open in Jacksonville.

"We had never seen anything like this before," said FBI special agent Larry Meyer.

Lucas Chansler, now 31, pleaded guilty this past November to targeting 350 young teens in 26 states, Canada and  abroad. Most of them are still unidentified.

A favorite tactic: using the computer in his Florida home to capture nude images of young girls at sleepovers unknowingly and then threatening to distribute them to family and friends - if they did not give him more.

"He created a living hell for them ," said Meyer.

As agents worked the Chansler case, they learned just how often similar crimes were happening.

"We can take every agent here in the Tampa Field Office or our division and have them focus just on sextortion alone and we still would not put a dent in the crime problem," said Couvertier.

Couvertier said sexortion typically starts on social media sites like Instagram, Kik or Snapchat, where lurkers wait for the perfect trap to catch kids. The victim often times not even the one who invites them in.

"They are very patient, they are very astute and they will find somebody. There is always that somebody that is willing to take on a new friend," said Couvertier

Like Chansler, they pretend to be kids and once they are in scroll through conversations, hunting the perfect target. From insecurities over anything from braces to divorce.

"What is important to that child's life. Is it grandma? Is it the parents? What are they fearful of?" said Couvertier.

And the hunting can be done from anywhere. That is how Polk deputies said Daniel Dunfee targeted the mother's daughter. They live in Washington state but the child still felt vulnerable from thousands of miles away. She thought he lived nearby.

"He sent her her address," said the mother

And her daughter fit the FBI profile. Her daughter went on Kik, to talk to friends about her problems, how her father just got laid off and for the first time in her life, her mother had to go to work. Deputies said Dunfee pounced on her weakness: love for family

"I would check her cell phone and I never saw anything," said the mother.

Deputies said Dunfee sent her daughter pictures of guns and knives, threatening to murder her parents and brothers if she did not send him shots of her undressing.

"I want other moms to know that this does happen because I had no clue," said the mother.

But for two years, the sextortion would continue with the young girl sending countless explicit photos and videos, compromising her self worth, to preserve her family.

"If she wasn't so scared about our safety I don't think she ever would have done it," said the mother.

"It's very prolific. It's something that we need help," said Couvertier.

 It's why the FBI posted a warning on their website

But, Couvertier said while checking kids phone and computers are good proactive measures, it's impossible to keep up.

The single most effective way to stop sextortion, speaking up, telling your child if they use bad judgment, it might be embarrassing now but it's not their fault.

"They should know if they come forward to an adult, they are not going to suffer any punishment or ramifications," said Couvertier.

It's how Dunfee finally got caught. Another teen in Illinois finally broke down revealing the blackmail.

Agents believe there are other victims still out there

It's why this mother wants a light shined into this dark corner of the internet.

"If I could go back in time, I would like to explain to my kids that nobody over their phone can hurt us," said the mother.

Then there's another disturbing tactic used by these on-line lurkers.

Investigators said they actually pull a child's face off a social media app and edit it on a different nude body, threatening the victims with distribution of the photo if they don't send them real pictures. Couvertier said kids buy into it because they are so easily manipulated.

"We need to stop this," said Couvertier.

"If by coming forward, I save one child then it is worth it." said the mother.

Here is some information that may help from the FBI

SIGNS THAT YOUR CHILD MIGHT BE IN TROUBLE:

1. Children may show signs of being more withdrawn, not as talkative, signs of anxiety.

2. They could have hard time sleeping.

3.  They will show signs nervousness when unexpectedly observed, this typically happens when they are secretly texting, emailing or talking on the phone with the predator.

4. They will be more secretive than usual

The FBI offers these tips:

Number one to parents:  parents/guardians communicate with their kids on a regular basis and discuss online safety concerns to mitigate risk of victimization.

TIPS FOR CHILDREN:

1. Turn off your computer when you are not using it.
 
2. Cover webcams with a removable sticker or tape when you are not using them.

3.  Don't open attachments when you're not confident of the sender.
 
4. Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are or who they say they are.
 
5. If someone you know is being victimized through sextortion, report it to your parents and encourage the victim to talk to their parents and report it to the FBI.

6 If you are receiving sextortion threats, don't be afraid to talk to your parents or to call the FBI.

SO WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PREDATOR AND A SEXTORTIONIST?

Explanation from David Couvertier: A  sexual predator is a person that is actually out there hunting and looking to exploit children in different ways either creating pornography, transmitting the pornography or having physical activity with that child.

Sextortion is more of a tactic. What it comes down to it is a blackmail scheme.

The predators  find some vulnerabilities in a child's lifestyle and things that you say and things that you do that can compromise you or they can compromise your reputation. Or I can threaten you because I have information about loved one: a family member or friend and if I had that leverage over you then I can have you and I can trade control over you.  And I will have you do things that are sexually satisfying to me.  

Sextortion is usually carried out by sexual predators. Sextortion has no limitations when it comes to demographic backgrounds or ages.

I https ://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015/july/sextortion/stop-sextortion-brochure

If you suspect anything, please call 1-800-CALL-FBI or tips.fbi.gov