OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — Multiple teens in Northwest Florida have been blackmailed for money this summer after sending nude photos online via social media apps.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said the most recent was an older teenage girl that sent photos of herself to a man in his 30s on TikTok. The man demanded $1,000 from the victim and threatened to send the photos to her friends and family if she did not pay him.
OCSO is investigating the case and advised the teenager to not send any money to people online. Another teenager, a male also fell victim to this type of ‘sextortion’ this week in Okaloosa County via Snapchat.
Sergeant Joe Gordon, with OCSO investigations, said there has been an increase with several cases being reported in the last three weeks.
“You know there are a lot more kids that are having access to the Internet,” said Gordon, with OCSO investigations. “It’s just kind of become a normal thing in society for whatever reason to send nude photographs back and forth amongst ages that we’ve seen as young as 10 years old. But definitely, you know the high school age kids are doing quite often just sending nudes back and forth to each other.”
Sgt. Gordon said these criminals are preying on the younger generation.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people out there that know that this has become a much more normal thing to send nude photographs, and those people are praying on not just kids, but adults too, and they will reach out to them on the Internet. They send a picture that they claim is of themselves and then in return, they say well, can you send me one?,” said Sgt. Gordon. “This is after a little bit of courtship, a little bit of friendship has been made so they send a photograph to them. It’s an immediate switch as soon as that photograph is sent, the person on the other end most of the time they’re asking for money, and they say ‘Hey can you send me $300.00? If not I’m gonna send this photograph to everybody that you know.”
OCSO said this issue has steadily grown in recent years and comes in waves. Sgt. Gordon said the best way to stop it is to teach your kids to never send photos of themselves to people online.
“Let’s just say Snapchat, for example. When you send a photograph you can set how long the photograph is going to be viewed for. You know it could be one second, it could be 5 seconds, 10 seconds, whatever, and they think oh after that set amount of time that photograph is gone. But that’s not the case,” said Gordon. “The person on the other end can screenshot it, they can grab a second phone and take a picture of it without you ever even knowing that that happened and we have seen that happen. It’s unfortunate because you know that’s not the intention that they had when they sent the picture but the person on the other end has other things in mind.”
Sgt. Gordon said cases have ranged from 10-year-old victims to 40-year-old victims. Photos taken decades ago can still come back to haunt you.
“You know that person that is your boyfriend or girlfriend right now might not be your boyfriend or girlfriend a year from now, 2-3 or 4 years from now or even 10 years from now. Once you take that photograph, it’s there forever and it can come back to haunt you at any time. So just stop sending the photographs.”
OCSO is tracking these cases and if suspects are found to be in the United States they will be prosecuted. Sgt Gordon said oftentimes these suspects or criminals live in other countries and can contact the victims from anywhere.
The state of Florida passed legislation with the sexting statute that can punish minors for sending photos.
“If kids are sending new photographs back and forth to each other, they can be issued a citation for it,” said Gordon. “If they get caught doing it a second time, they can be basically given the notice to appear for a misdemeanor offense if they get caught doing it a second time.”
The OCSO Crime Prevention unit hosts cyber safety training classes for both parents and kids to learn how to protect themselves online. The next course is on August 24 at the St. Simon’s church in Fort Walton Beach.