This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Artifical intelligence-generated “deepfakes” are fueling sextortion scams like dried up brush in an out-of-control wildfire.
The number of nationally reported sextortion cases increased 322% between February 2022 and February 2023, according to the FBI, which said last week there’s been a significant uptick since April because of AI-doctored images.
Innocent pictures or videos uploaded to social media or sent in messages can be twisted into sexually explicit, AI-generated images that are “true-to-life” and nearly impossible to discern, the FBI said.
Predators, who are typically in another country, weaponize the doctored, AI images against juveniles to coerce money out of them or their families, or as an attempt to get real sexually graphic images, according to the FBI.
The FBI describes sextortion as a crime that “involves coercing victims into providing sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves, then threatening to share them publicly or with the victim’s family and friends.”
“Malicious actors use content manipulation technologies and services to exploit photos and videos – typically captured from an individual’s social media account, open internet or requested from the victim – into sexually-themed images that appear true-to-life in likeness to a victim, then circulate them on social media, public forums or pornographic websites,” the FBI said in a June 5 PSA.
“Many victims, which have included minors, are unaware their images were copied, manipulated and circulated until it was brought to their attention by someone else.”
At least a dozen sextortion-related suicides have been reported across the country, according to the latest FBI numbers from earlier this year.
Many victims are males between the ages of 10 and 17, although there have been victims as young as 7, the FBI said. Girls have also been targeted, but the statistics show a higher number of boys have been victimized.
Last July, 17-year-old Gavin Guffey received a message from someone posing as a girl on Instagram one evening, and the pair began chatting on the social media app owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta.
That person convinced Gavin to turn on “vanish mode” in their Instagram chat, which allows messages to disappear after they are received. They then shared photos, his father, South Carolina Republican state Rep. Brandon Guffey, told Fox News Digital in a previous interview.
That led to demands for money, and escalated until Gavin tragically ended his life.
Sextortion isn’t new, but the number of cases has boomed since the pandemic. From 2021 to 2022, the FBI recorded a 463% increase in reported sextortion cases, and now open-source AI tools have simplified the process for predators, the FBI said.
FATHER TALKS ABOUT LOSING HIS SON AFTER A SEXTORTION SCAM
And, as the bureau notes, reported numbers don’t tell the whole story, because many victims feel shame and do not file reports, so the number of cases could actually be much higher.
Alicia Kozak, who escaped a sexual predator’s dungeon where she was kept in chains, is now an internet safety expert who regularly speaks in schools to educate students about the dangers of online predators.
She told Fox News Digital that sextortion is one of the biggest and most devastating threats to today’s teens in a world where kids chase social media influencer status and fame, so they blindly accept followers without vetting them.
“I speak in schools, and every single school I’ve spoken in has had several sextortion victims and nearly all of the communities have had a child die by suicide as a result of sextortion and the threats, shame and fear that go along with it,” Kozak said.
When she was 13, the internet was in its infancy, as AI is now, and she sees parallels in the rapidly advancing – and potentially world-changing – technology.
“When this happened to me, much of the dangers of the internet were unknown, and now we’re once again in that same territory,” Kozak said. “AI has entered the mainstream and anybody can access and use it.
“While many are caught up in the glitz and excitement, or maybe even fear that we could lose control of the tech itself, it’s important to remember that the criminals are using it to victimize others and this most certainly is happening with sextortion.”
“Deepfakes” go way beyond photoshopped images, she said. “It’s more realistic, and it’s becoming more prevalent and pervasive.”
WATCH ALICIA KOZAK TALK ABOUT HER STORY WITH FOX NEWS DIGITAL
Sextortion is a crime that predators have carried out in the shadows for years. In what authorities called one of the largest sextortion cases ever prosecuted in the U.S., 31-year-old Lucas Michael Chansler was sentenced in 2014 to 105 years in prison.
The Florida man had targeted more than 350 victims from 26 states, three Canadian provinces and the U.K. between 2007 and 2010.
He posed as a 15-year-old boy on MySpace, AIM and Stickam to befriend girls between 13 and 18, and used 135 different online IDs to conceal his identity and locations, the FBI said.
He pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and was sentenced to prison, but there are still more than 200 child victims who have not been identified in his case.
Michelle DeLaune, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said in a previous statement that young victims of this crime “feel like there’s no way out.”
“But we want them to know that they’re not alone. In the past year, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has received more than 10,000 sextortion-related reports,” DeLaune said earlier this year. “Please talk to your children about what to do if they (or their friends) are targeted online. NCMEC has free resources to help them navigate an overwhelming and scary situation.”
NCMEC also provides a free service called “Take It Down,” which works to help victims remove or stop the online sharing of sexually explicit images or videos.
The website is: https://takeitdown.ncmec.org.
The FBI provides recommendations for sharing content online, as well as resources for extortion victims, at https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2023/PSA230605.
The FBI also urges victims to report exploitation by calling the local FBI field office, calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.