COLONIE, N.Y. (News10) — The FBI is seeing a frightening rise in the number of cases involving young people being threatened and coerced into sending explicit images online. It is a crime known as sextortion and officials says it has resulted in recent teen suicides across the country. As NEWS10’s Anya Tucker reports, one local school district is now partnering with the FBI to tackle the problem.

The FBI’s Albany Office Special Agent In Charge Janeen DiGuiseppi has a stark warning about an uptick in sextortion cases involving young people. “You have these, what I would call monsters out there, targeting these young kids, and making their lives a living hell,” said DiGuiseppi.

Sextortion is when blackmailers demand sexual favors or money, under the threat of making public, a victim’s sexual activity or explicit images. DiGuiseppi says much like the schemers behind so-called romance scams, these perpetrators typically live outside of the United States and often initiate contact with kids through online apps or video games, gaining their trust. “And the minute they get these pictures, they are immediately replying to the child and starting to blackmail them,” added DiGuiseppi.

The crime can be devastating and even fatal says DiGuiseppi, with around a dozen reported suicides nationwide. She says the kids that are being targeted are mostly young boys between the ages of 14 and 17. High School senior John Malagrida is around that age range. “It’s kind of terrifying because like, anyone can fall victim. Because someone can make an account and put my best friend’s name on it and I just think, ‘Oh, they just made a new account. I’ll add them back.’ And it’s not them and I’m telling him all this information and I don’t know who it’s going to.”

The rise in sextortion cases is the reason why Tom Kachadurian, Executive Principal of Colonie Central High School is partnering with the FBI, inviting parents, guardians and students grades 7-12 to attend an in-person online safety session scheduled on March 30th. “We want as many to become a part of this conversation, and to be as informed as they can, so that they too can walk away with understanding how they can protect themselves, as well as their children from these predators,” he told News10’s Anya Tucker.

Several others school districts are also invited to attend. Click here for more information on the event and how to register.

If you are a victim or know a young person who is being exploited, the FBI asks that you Immediately contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI or report it online. You should block the predator, but do not delete the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping the online communications.

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