FBI says ‘sextortion’ cases are on the rise – and they’re trying to warn parents of young kids

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PHOENIX, AZ – A public affairs specialist within the FBI Phoenix office warns that cases of “sextortion” are cropping up in Arizona, with adults attempting to exploit minors. 

Meanwhile, a woman who remembers being the victim of one of these very sort of cases in Arizona is working to create increased awareness of how these predators target minors. 

For those unaware, “sextortion” is the act of trying to extort nude pictures or videos from victims, typically by alleging that they already possess indecent photos and threatening to disseminate them to friends and family if more aren’t produced upon request. 

It’s a particularly vile act, and the victims are typically minors in these cases. 

Ashley Reynolds happens to be all too familiar with how these nefarious schemes play out, as she was just 14-years-old when she was targeted by a predator 10 years ago who began extorting her for revealing photos by alleging the aforementioned. 

Back when Reynolds was a student at Deer Valley High School, she’d gotten a random text message that read: 

“I have naked pictures of you. They’re going to be sent to all ur friends.”

A follow up message then cited the demands of a then-14-year-old girl:

“I need you to take pictures in your bra if u don’t want them to see you.”

Reynolds at the time knew that she never once took a nude photograph of herself, but then began to wonder if the person who sent the text messages had somehow hacked into her webcam. 

Having not told her parents at the time and being concerned that there were indecent images of her in the individual’s possession, Reynolds decided to give into the demands and sent over some pictures: 

“I eventually sent him the pictures thinking it would be done.”

Except that was not the case. 

Instead, the person who’d sent the messages began to become more demanding, contacting Reynolds for roughly a year after that first interaction: 

“Every single night I was sending over 60 naked pictures of myself.”

Public Affairs Specialist Jill McCabe from the FBI Phoenix office explains that this is an all-too common tactic by these predators: 

“Often times that’s through deception, through threats, by offering money or gifts and they’re able to obtain these photos and then they’ll ask for more.”

Reynolds is advocating for schools to introduce some sort of educational curriculum around what sextortion is and how to approach it if someone gets targeted by a predator.

However, Reynolds says that the topic seems to carry taboo elements solely because of the word “sex” being brought into the fold:

“They are so afraid to bring this into the curriculum because of the word sextortion you have the word sex in it.”

Back in 2010, police had caught up with the man who victimized Reynolds when she was just a teenage girl. And it turns out Reynolds was literally one of hundreds of young girls victimized by the same man. 

Michael Lucas Chansler was convicted in 2014 of nine counts of producing child pornography. According to the DOJ report on Chansler, the following was cited about his online exploits: 

“[F]rom 2007 and continuing until January 2010, Chansler transmitted threatening communications to hundreds of girls over the Internet.  He transmitted these threats with the intent to extort photographs and webcam videos showing the victims exposing themselves and engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”

According to reports, Chansler had victimized approximately 350 girls, aged between 13 and 18-years-old. Authorities have only been able to locate 106 victims of his online exploits. 

Chansler was sentenced to spend 105 years in federal prison for his numerous acts of sextortion. He was 31-years-old at the time of his sentencing.

According to the FBI, the following tips should be employed to help prevent children from becoming the victim of sextortion: 

  1. Be selective about what you share online, especially your personal information and passwords. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you.
  2. Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
  3. Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be.
  4. Be suspicious if you meet someone on one game or app and they ask you to start talking to them on a different platform.
  5. Be willing to ask for help. If you are getting messages or requests that don’t seem right, block the sender and report the behavior.

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In California, a man was just recently federally indicted for alleged threats sent via text message who had previously been convicted in a sextortion case in 2018.

Here’s that previous report. 

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LOS ANGELES, CA – A 25-year-old man from the Chatsworth neighborhood of Los Angeles has recently been indicted on federal charges due to a series of alleged threats of rape and murder via text messages sent to two sisters.

On November 6th, a federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment lodged against Alex Scott Roberts stemming from a series of threats he allegedly made against two female victims over a three-week period between late-July and August of 2020.

Roberts was charged with two counts of stalking and four counts of making threats by interstate communications, which the interstate communications relate to the text messages specifically.

The two victims, who were not named in the indictment, were said to have been placed “in reasonable fear of death and serious bodily injury” from the alleged actions taken by Roberts.

In July, the woman described as “Victim 1” in the indictment was said to have informed Roberts that she had no desire to communicate with him. In response, prosecutors say that Roberts created a fake Craigslist ad online showcasing Victim 1’s home address as being a property available for rent.

Authorities say the listing online invited would-be renters to “stop by anytime” at Victim 1’s home.

Matters only escalated from there, according to prosecutors.

On August 2nd, Roberts was said to have started texting a friend of Victim 1’s demanding that they give him her phone number.

On August 11th and the 18th, Roberts was also said to have sent a series of text messages to Victim 1 and Victim 2, alleging that he was outside their home and that he was going to kill their parents and rape them.

The texts read:

“So I’m outside…I see you guys…payback is a bitch and she gets what she deserves hope you all survive there will be blood.”

“Have either of u been raped I guess you will experience that soon.”

“I have a gun aimed right at both your mom and dad . . . If u don’t respond someone will die.”

Apparently, Roberts was already in custody when the indictment was lodged against him on November 6th, according to the DOJ.

When the FBI conducted a search warrant at his home back in September relating to this specific case, Roberts was reportedly on parole for a previous criminal offense.

Back in early 2018, Roberts was convicted in a case involving extorting women online for nude photographs by threatening to take existing nude photographs he claimed to have and publish them online. 

Man federally indicted for text messages threatening to murder two sisters, kill their parents: 'Sextortion'
Alex Scott Roberts – Simi Valley Police Department

The DA’s office in that case called the series of actions committed by Roberts as “sextortion”: 

“Roberts falsely told the victims that he had nude photos of them and threatened to publish the photos if they did not cooperate with his demands.”

That case involved a reported 14 victims that Roberts tried extorting nude pictures of. 

After authorities obtained evidence of the alleged stalking and threats, Roberts’ parole was then revoked which officials say that parole violation will be complete by the end of November.

However, once that parole violation is completed, the FBI are expected to bring Roberts into federal custody.

According to the DOJ, Roberts could be looking at up to five years in federal prison for each count listed on the indictment. Assistant United States Attorney Lauren Restrepo of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section is currently prosecuting the case.

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