AS THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS NATIONWIDE ARE TARGETED BY NEW & ADVANCED ONLINE & SOCIAL MEDIA PREDATORY BLACKMAILING SCHEMES, INCLUDING FOUR RECENTLY IMPACTED ROCHESTER-FINGER LAKES SCHOOL DISTRICTS, SENATOR CALLS ON NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING & EXPLOITED CHILDREN TO IMMEDIATELY MOBILIZE ALL AVAILABLE RESOURCES TO IMPACTED ROCHESTER DISTRICTS; ANNOUNCES PUSH FOR NEW LEGISLATION DESIGNATING ONLINE PREDATOR BLACKMAILING AS FEDERAL CRIME
For Months, Online Extortionists Have Targeted Many Rochester-Finger Lakes Students: Creating Fake Online Profiles, Befriending Students & Stealing Personal Information & Private Photos; Then Weaponizing The Information For Blackmail And Ransom; DOJ Calls It The, “Fastest Growing Online Threat Against Children”
Schumer Launches Major Two-Pronged Plan To Prevent Vulnerable Students From Falling Victim To Criminal Online And Social Media Schemes, Urging NCMEC To Immediately Mobilize All Available Resources To Rochester-Finger Lakes Districts; Announces Support For Soon-To-Be-Introduced Legislation To Make Online Predator Blackmail A Federal Crime Once & For All
Schumer: We Must Do Everything Possible To Stop These Predatory Cyber Crooks From Preying On Our Children & Must Protect Our School Districts
Standing at Canandaigua Academy, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched 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.” Specifically, 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 strong two-pronged approach to combat these extortion schemes, which are targeting minors within the Rochester-Finger Lakes School Districts. 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. Schumer said, “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.”
“Over the past few months, a new, disgraceful crime has reared its ugly head here in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region: online and social media predators prey on, target, extort and blackmail children. These electronic extortionists have targeted students in four local school districts, befriended them on social media platforms to attain private information and pictures, and then blackmailed them for various types of ransom using the photos and information,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why today I’m launching a major, two-pronged push to protect our districts – and most importantly, our children – from these truly appalling schemes.
“First, I’m calling on NCMEC to use the resources provided to them under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which I was proud to help pass in December, to develop and disseminate informational programs to local schools and stakeholders about how to prevent online predator blackmailing. Second, I’m announcing that I will be pushing legislation in the Senate to designate these schemes as federal crimes. It is imperative that we step up and do everything in our power to protect our children from abuse, mistreatment, and predators, and I will work hard to do just that at the federal level,” said Schumer.
Schumer said that to date, students at four school districts in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region – Penn Yan, Canandaigua, Wayne Central and Hilton – have been preyed upon by these online predator blackmailing schemes. In December of 2018, the 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 afterward, 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. Then, no less than a month later in January of this year, online predator blackmailing schemes began to rear their ugly head 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 highlighted the recently passed Trafficking Victims Protection Act as one of the mechanisms that should be used to fight the further spread of the online predator blackmailing schemes. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which Schumer fought to pass in December, specifically recognizes this new online extortion scheme as a federally recognized threat targeting children. Additionally, it codifies Congress’s intent that federal resources provided to the NCMEC be used to engage with schools, local educational agencies, law enforcement agencies, local government and the general public to develop and disseminate programs and information in order to safeguard kids from this new and growing threat. Schumer urged the NCMEC to prioritize engaging with schools and stakeholders in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region as it conducts this critical work, due to the prevalence of the schemes in the area.
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.
Schumer was joined by Canandaigua District Superintendent Jamie Farr, Canandaigua Police Chief Stephen Hedworth, Monroe County School Board Association Executive Director Sherry Johnson, and Canandaigua Academy Principal Vernon Tenney.
Second, Schumer announced he is sponsoring legislation in the Senate that would formally designate online predator blackmailing as a federal crime. Schumer also noted that a federal law to criminalize this type of extortion is needed because so far only a handful of states have enacted a law to make this type of extortion illegal. The legislation will criminalize the use of the interstate telecommunications systems to coerce a victim to produce a sexually intimate photo or video; extort a victim using a sexually intimate photo or video; or knowingly publish a victim’s personally identifiable information (including sexually intimate photos or videos) with the intent to harm. It would also provide the FBI with additional enforcement resources and establish a grant program to train and equip state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial personnel and establish a national resource center to provide technical assistance to address cybercrimes against individuals.
Monroe County School Board Association Executive Director Sherry Johnson said, “While school is still one of the safest places that children can be, our schools continue to need the tools to protect from the ever increasing sophistication of those who would try to access and harm our kids. Families and communities rely on and trust that their schools will provide the best information on how to keep children safe. So, we applaud and support Senator Schumer’s work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and all that he is doing to protect every child from these nefarious threats every day.
Superintendent of Schools in the Canandaigua City School District Jamie Farr said, “Our reality is, the children we service are digital natives. Technology and the use of and interaction with digital content is a regular and natural part of their lives whether for work or pleasure. Technology affords great capability but with that comes a degree of risk as well. We need to remain mindful and purposeful in our approach to educating children and families about the risks which exist such that they remain safe digital consumers and users. We are thankful that this legislation is a positive step towards this goal.”
A copy of Schumer’s letter to NCMEC President & CEO John F. Clark appears below.
Dear President & CEO Clark,
Over the past 60 day period school districts across the Rochester and Finger Lakes region of New York State have become aware that a new online extortion scheme, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has now classified as the “fastest growing online threat against children,” has been targeting or victimizing students throughout these communities. The fact that this crime is new, on the rise, and relatively unknown to would-be victims requires an “all-hands-on-deck” response from federal agencies in order to safeguard kids from cybercriminals that are perpetrating this online extortion scheme. Fortunately, in December I was pleased to help pass into law the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which specifically recognize this new online extortion scheme as a federally recognized threat targeting children. Moreover, these new laws codify Congress’s intent that the federal resources provided to the National Center on Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) be used to engage with schools, local educational agencies, law enforcement agencies, local governments, and the general public to develop and disseminate programs and information in order to prevent and safeguard children from this new and growing threat. As you conduct this work, I request you prioritize engaging with the schools and stakeholders in the Rochester Finger Lakes region as your first focus.
To date students at four schools districts – Penn Yan, Canandaigua, Wayne Central, and Hilton – have been preyed upon my these online extortion perpetrators who create fraudulent social media identities to befriend students and obtain compromising or private information or images from the victims which the perpetrator then uses to blackmail the victims by threatening to publicly post the victim’s private information. 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. 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 victim’s contacts.
By exploiting online social media platforms these cyber extortionists can operate far outside of local jurisdictions making it difficult for local or even federal law enforcement to identify and apprehend them. This makes it even more incumbent for the NCMEC to arm local educators with new tools and information and educate would-be victims in the Rochester Finger Lakes region to help prevent children from falling victims to these crimes in the first place.
I appreciate your attention to my request.
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