FBI Seeking Assistance To Identify Victims In International Sextortion Case

By Tamas Mondovics

Parents and children got a dose of reality after recent reports of an ongoing sexual cyber crime targeting children, threatening them and their parents physically and emotionally.

As defined by law enforcement, sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material unless the victim provides images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.

According to FBI Tampa Field Office Spokesman, Special Agent Dave Couvertier, sextortion is keeping the agency very busy.

“The FBI has countless open sextortion investigations across the country that involve both subjects and victims from around the world,” Couvertier said.

Investigators said that subjects use three methods to get what they want, starting by threatening their victim with the release and distribution of material including sexually explicit images, videos, email and text messages the victim seeks to keep private.

Threats also include financial or physical harm of friends or relatives of the victim by using information obtained from the victim’s computer.

The third method is the withholding of something the victim needs or wants unless they comply with demands.

Such tactics are typically conducted over the Internet or cellular networks using social networking sites (SNS), instant messaging and email.

While sextortion can be facilitated in many ways, the subjects usually exploit the young victim’s vulnerability by hacking to assume control of a victim’s computer, gaining access to files, and/or control of the computer’s webcam and microphone, by the theft of personal electronic devices that contain sensitive material, and by leading the victim to believe the perpetrator can be trusted as the perpetrator represents himself/herself as a business (i.e. modeling agency), friend, or even the victim’s boyfriend or girlfriend.

“Sextortion affects children across all demographics,” Couvertier said adding that victims withdraw from family members and can experience anxiety; psychological, physical and emotional trauma; bullying; increased risk for suicide; and increased dropout rates.

An example of such tragic cases involves convicted online predator Lucas Michael Chansler, formerly of St. Johns, Florida, who was sentenced to 105 years in federal prison for an extortion scheme to produce child pornography.

According to the FBI, Chansler, 31, pled guilty to nine counts of producing child pornography, but investigators are seeking the public’s assistance to identify additional victims.

After gaining some measure of trust from a particular victim, Chansler would invite her to a live video chat, and later would ask her to expose herself, which he would record then demand additional, more graphic images or videos.

If she did not comply, he would distribute the images and videos online, or send them to her family and friends.

The size of Chansler’s lone operation puts things in perspective for all who doubt the extent or danger of this crime.

According to court testimony, Chansler targeted 350 minor victims in 26 different states throughout the United States, three Canadian provinces, and the United Kingdom. One hundred and nine victims have been positively identified.

A list of 135 known screen names, including Myspace, Stickam, and AIM, were used while sexually extorting victims. In total, Chansler had approximately 80,000 images and videos in his possession, investigators said.

“This case serves as an example that children anywhere can be targeted for sextortion and that the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals accountable,” said Assistant Director Joseph S. Campbell. “The devastating impact of these crimes on the victims, their families, and friends cannot be ignored. The FBI is committed to using our resources and leveraging law enforcement partnerships around the world to identify and arrest these criminals.”

Parents are urged to communicate with their children and supervise their children’s computer or mobile device usage.

For more information, contact the FBI at www.fbi.gov/tampa.