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Ohio couple’s son, 17, got over 200 Instagram messages in 19-hour sextortion ‘nightmare’ that led to suicide

todayJune 5, 2024 1

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This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).Tamia and Tim Woods’ reality became a “nightmare” Nov. 19, 2022, when their 17-year-old, all-American son died by suicide after becoming the victim of a sextortion scheme on Instagram.That day, James became yet another young victim of the social media crime trend in which users are tricked — and often coerced — into sending explicit photos to a scammer who is posing as someone else in an effort to blackmail the victim for money or more explicit photos. In many cases, the scammers are posing as teenage girls targeting teenage boys.”It’s scary. … It was a nightmare, and we didn’t quite know what is really going on or what happened,” Tamia Woods told Fox News Digital at CrimeCon, an annual true-crime convention hosted in Nashville over the weekend.Tamia and Tim flew to the convention from their hometown of Streetsboro, Ohio, to educate others on the dangers of extortion, a relatively new and rapidly growing crime harming American children and adults.SOUTH CAROLINA FAMILY OF BOY, 13, WHO DIED BY SUICIDE SUES SNAPCHAT OVER SEXTORTION SCHEME”A lot of times it can end with self-harming or [is] fatal in a lot of cases, as well,” Tamia said.It was only after their son’s death that Tamia and Tim learned through police that their son had been a victim of a sextortion scam. Prior to that conversation, they had never heard of sextortion.SOUTH CAROLINA LAWMAKER EXPOSES DANGERS OF ‘SEXTORTION’ AFTER TEENAGE SON’S SUICIDE”It was extremely new at the time. And [police] explained it was financial sextortion,” Tamia said. “And what we were about to see was extremely hard to read. We later found out that James received 200 messages in 19½ hours. And we didn’t know who was next. They were screenshotting a lot of Jim’s Instagram friends. They had already started sending pictures and threats to his friends, of James. And so we just had to act fast to make sure that it didn’t happen to anyone else.”AFTER MICHIGAN TEEN’S SUICIDE, NIGERIAN BROTHERS PLEAD GUILTY TO PLANNING DEADLY SEXTORTION SCHEMEA Meta spokesperson said the company has rules against sharing or threatening to share someone else’s intimate photos. It also restricts adults over 18 from starting private messages with teens they are not connected with on Instagram and Messenger and defaults settings for teens under 16 to stricter messaging settings. In April, Meta announced new features to combat sextortion, including Nudity Protection, which will be turned on by default for users under 18, will blur nude images sent through direct messages (DMs) on the app and will prompt users with messages when the app detects nudity in a user’s DMs. Additionally, users will get “tips” when they send or receive nude images, reminding them of the potential risks of sending such images.They also partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to create a free service called “Take it Down,” which is meant to help victims of sextortion erase explicit images of victims or get bad actors to stop sharing them online. The tool can be accessed at https://takeitdown.ncmec.org.AI ‘DEEPFAKES’ OF INNOCENT IMAGES FUEL SPIKE IN SEXTORTION SCAMS, FBI WARNSThe FBI describes sextortion as a criminal act in which an offender contacts a victim online and coerces the victim to send explicit images or videos in exchange for either more explicit material or money. The FBI received more than 13,000 reports of online financial sextortion involving at least 12,600 victims between October 2021 and March 2023.The Woods say their son was a happy and talented teenager excited about his college prospects.”He was friendly, and he had charisma. He was an athlete,” Tim Woods said. “He loved games, period. He loved people, period. He just was fun to love. He liked to help people all the time. He was really considerate and compassionate.”Since their son’s death, the Woods have started the James Woods Foundation, which aims to protect children not only from sextortion but also “rape, molestation, harassment, cyberbullying and suicide,” Tamia said.WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT PREVENTION, RED FLAGS AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THE ISSUE”We’ve come to find out that our youth are in a dire need of making sure that we help lift them up. A lot of times, they don’t understand that … we want them to be held accountable for their mistakes, but never death — never something so extreme,” Tamia explained. “And we also teach the kids how to recognize that they are victims. We encourage them to speak up. And even though we’ve only been doing this for a year and a half, we’ve helped influence the kids to speak up, which led to two captures of two pedophiles. We’ve actually stopped numerous suicides and also helped children throughout sextortion, who were actively being sextorted, as well.”At the conference, the Woods spoke alongside South Carolina state Rep. Brandon Guffey, who lost his 17-year-old son to suicide after a sextortion scam on Instagram in July 2022. FBI WARNS TEEN BOYS INCREASINGLY TARGETED IN ONLINE ‘SEXTORTION’ SCHEMESGuffey sued Meta earlier this year after his son met a sextortionist posing as a girl on the photo-sharing app.”Within the first four months of me taking office, we passed Gavin’s Law. And Gavin’s Law … charges up to 15 years in prison if you target a minor. And it’s an additional 15 years if great bodily harm occurs or death results in it,” Guffey told Fox News Digital at CrimeCon. “In addition to that, we mandated that Gavin’s Law and sextortion be taught in all schools throughout South Carolina. That was the first step.”GROWING SNAPCHAT ‘SEXTORTION’ SCHEMES TARGET YOUNG BOYS, EXPERT WARNSGuffey also said he wants children to own their “name, image and likeness” in the same way athletes do so strangers can’t use their images against them in extortion schemes, artificial intelligence-generated pornography or other crimes on social media.”And if we just go back and look at big tobacco. … The first step was just warning labels on the boxes. Yet Apple and Google were allowing 13-year-olds to enter into these contracts to download apps without a big warning on the top of it,” Guffey explained. “I don’t see how that’s legal, first of all. But once those apps are there, then they’re allowing the child sex abuse material to transfer through other apps such as Snap and Instagram. I’ve heard about stuff on Discord and even gaming platforms.”Guffey and the Woods have many common goals, but the most important right now is to spread awareness about the existence and proliferation of sextortion schemes on social media.”I can’t tell you how many kids that have called or parents that have called just because they heard me speak or went and talked with their kids and found out it was going on,” Guffey said. “And that’s what makes me keep going. That’s the fuel to know that I’m actually reaching people.”

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