ROCHESTER – During a visit to Canandaigua Academy, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer called for a major push to curb the rampancy of a new online extortion scheme, which the Department of Justice (DOJ) has now classified as the “fastest growing online threat against children.”
Schumer explained, over the last two months multiple school districts in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region have been targeted by online extortion predators who create fake social media identities to befriend students and obtain compromising or private information or images from the victims. According to recent reports, these criminals then use that compromising information to blackmail victims for a ransom by threatening to post it publicly.
Schumer outlined a two-pronged approach to combat these extortion schemes. First, he called on the National Center For Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to immediately commence work with the local, Rochester-Finger Lakes Region county school associations to provide schools with information and programming to educate students, parents and communities at-large.
Second, Schumer announced his push for new legislation in the Senate to make this new form of online predator blackmailing a federal crime.
“The fact that this category of crime is new, on the rise, and relatively unknown to would-be victims requires a no-nonsense, all-hands-on-deck response from federal agencies and Congress to do everything possible to educate would-be victims and prevent it,” Schumer said.
In December, New York State Police began looking into one of these schemes at the Penn Yan Central School District, after a predator created fake social media accounts to target student’s personal information and private photos, and then used it against the students for ransom, according to recent reports.
One week later, both Canandaigua District Superintendent Jamie Farr and Wayne Central School District Superintendent Mathis Calvin alerted families in their district that a similar type of scheme was pursuing students in Ontario and Wayne County. In January, online predator blackmailing schemes began to happen in Monroe County, specifically in the Hilton school district. Schumer said that the rampancy of these schemes is clear as day, and called for them to be stopped as soon as possible.
Additionally, according to Schumer, last year the FBI reported that in one month alone, between July and August, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 13,000 complaints from victims of these attacks. Schumer detailed that in many of those cases, the perpetrator demanded the victims pay them money as ransom or they would post the personal information publicly on social media or release it to the victims’ contacts.
Schumer said that by exploiting online social media platforms, these cyber extortionists operate far outside local jurisdictions, making it difficult for local or even federal law enforcement to identify and apprehend perpetrators. Schumer said that this makes it all the more critical for NCMEC to arm local educators with new tools and information, as well as educate would-be victims and parents in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region to help prevent any more children from falling victims to these crimes in the first place.