CINCINNATI - "Sextortion" is the new word investigators of cyber-sex crimes are becoming familiar with as "sexting" becomes more and more prevalent.
Cincinnati Police Detective Mary Braun first started hearing the word "sextortion" over a year ago and says it's quickly becoming a serious concern, especially where kids are concerned.
"I can't even describe how high the importance of this is," said Braun.
Sexting is sending explicitly sexual messages or images between mobile devices. Sextortion is when someone blackmails the person posing for those pictures for money or sex.
Braun works for the Regional Electronic Computer Intelligence Task Force (RECI), a joint effort of the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. She says RECI is investigating a few cases of sextortion, which she could not discuss, but worries there are more cases out there going unreported.
"They get very embarrassed and they don't want to come forward," said Braun.
In many cases teens have sent naked pictures of themselves to boyfriends or girlfriends they trusted, only to be later betrayed when the relationship ends. In some cases those pictures end up in the hands of strangers who threaten to tell kids' parents or share the pictures with others.
Cases are popping up coast to coast. An Alabama man was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sending threatening emails to more than 50 young women, after he acquired naked photos of them. In Wisconsin, an 18-year-old was sentenced to 15 years after he was found guilty of posing as a girl on Facebook to trick male classmates into sending nude photos, which he then extorted for sex. In Southern California, authorities arrested a man they say extorted over 200 women.
One woman (Jeanne) became a victim of sextortion when she broke up with her boyfriend to whom she had given nude photos.
"He started threatening me with the nude photos. He threatened to submit them to my company as well as post them on Facebook, on the Internet, and to send them to all of my friends," said Jeanne.
Internet privacy expert and attorney Parry Aftab, who is also the Executive Director of WiredSafety.org, says while "sextortion" can happen to anyone, including adults like Jeanne, teens are especially vulnerable and should be aware that predators will use their pictures as a weapon.
"When teens take and share sexual images, they don't want their parents, their principal or the police to get a hold of them. So that means when a predator wants them to do things - take more images or actually engage in sex - they say that they will make them public or send them to their parents to get them to comply," said Aftab.
Ross Ellis is the founder of the advocacy group "Love Our Children USA" www.loveourchildrenusa.org . Ellis states that first kids must be reminded there can be legal consequences when it comes to sexting in general, including child pornography charges in some cases. She also stresses that parents need to get involved to protect their kids before it's too late.
"Parents need to not overreact. They need to sit down with their teens and have a very important conversation. Nothing hysterical but, 'This is what can happen', 'this is happening'," said Ellis.
Detective Braun adds that parents need to develop and keep their kids' trust, especially if this situation presents itself.
In a case of sextortion she says, "Someone that you think may have been your friend is really not and I think that goes on to affect someone their entire life of how they do any kind of interpersonal relationships." Braun says parents should not "freak out" if their kids bring this to them "because they need to know that YOU'RE someone who CAN be trusted."
Some tips for Parents and Guardians from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC):
*Begin a dialogue with your kids about safe Internet use and supervise their online activities
*Consider rating, blocking, monitoring, and filtering applications for your computer
*Make Internet use a family activity
*Encourage your kids' critical thinking skills
*Set reasonable rules for going online
*Encourage your kids to tell you when they encounter problems online
The NCMEC offers tips and a wealth of information for parents on how to protect their kids online and talk to them about sexting, sextortion etc. at NetSmartz.org . Also you can visit the site for answers to commonly asked questions about the Internet and computers or ask experts specific questions.
If you have information to help NCMEC in the fight against child sexual exploitation, report it to the CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com or call 1-800-843-5678.
Copyright 2010 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.