Honolulu police said they’ve seen a spike in recent weeks of sexual extortion cases over the internet known as “sextortion.”
Detectives say men and women, the young and old are victims on Oahu — and some have paid thousands of dollars to scammers who threaten to expose nude photos or videos of them if they don’t pay up.
The Honolulu Police Department said it’s received about a half dozen complaints of sextortion in just the last six weeks or so. Detectives said these crimes are usually under-reported because people are so embarrassed by them, so they know there are many other victims.
On Facebook or internet dating sites like Plenty of Fish, scammers have befriended people and then start talking with them by phone or Skype, finding out key facts such as if they’re married, according to HPD Captain John McCarthy of the Criminal Investigation Division.
“They gather information on you, they see your vulnerability. If you’re in the military or government or a businessman, somebody with something to lose,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said they then they get the victims to engage in cybersex or send sexually explicit photos and videos.
“We see males getting involved with females over the internet and they’re extorted for money, claiming that the victims are underage and they’ll expose their actions,” McCarthy said.
Oahu residents have also recently been victims of romance scams.
“Female victims have sent nude pictures to a so-called boyfriend. And they’ll turn around and say they’ll make the photos public if they’re not paid money,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said Oahu scam victims have sent anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars to scammers in recent weeks and the cases are difficult to solve, since HPD does not have jurisdiction in faraway countries where the scammers are based.
And there’s another big problem, McCarthy said: “The victim does not know who the suspects are. They’ve gotten names, we’ve tracked, we’ve had money that’s been sent to West Africa and the Philippines, that’s documented, but they don’t know who these people are.”
Young people have also been targeted on Oahu, in cases similar to a sexual extortion scheme in Florida. The FBI caught Lucas Michael Chansler, formerly of St. Johns, Florida, who was going on line and pretending to be a young teenage boy and getting naked pictures from hundreds of underage teenage girls.
“Once he actually received a naked picture, he flipped it around and told them they’d have to send even more graphic pictures and videos of themselves or he was going to expose them widely as sluts,” said Tom Simon, an FBI spokesman in Honolulu.
Chansler is serving a 105-year federal prison sentence for engaging in an extortion scheme to produce child pornography. According to court testimony, Chansler targeted 350 minor girls in 26 states, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Ashley Reynolds was 14 years old when she was victimized by Chansler in 2009.
“I gave him the pictures and I got to keep my reputation. He was not going to stop and he was set on sharing my picture with whoever he could to ruin my reputation,” Reynolds told the FBI.
Simon said predators and scammers can hide behind anonymity of the internet, “Which means that a person in Florida really can target teenagers here in Hawaii for a scheme like this. So the FBI stands ready to catch these predators and get them off the streets and off the web.”
McCarthy, from HPD, said people need to avoid becoming victims of these scams.
“You’re putting yourself in jeopardy by engaging in that kind of risky action. Don’t put yourself in that situation, first of all,” McCarthy said.
The simplest advice is to avoid sending explicit videos or pictures of yourself to anyone, especially if you’re not exactly sure who they really are, McCarthy said.