Federal prosecutors said they are seeing a growing number of cases of men blackmailing children over the internet for illicit photographs and videos. The predators often pose as teenagers and in one case, pop singer Justin Bieber.
Authorities used the term "sextortion" to describe the form of blackmail.
In 2012, Tremain Hutchinson of DeKalb County was arrested and charged with coercing teen girls into sending him sexually explicit photographs. Hutchinson posed as a "handsome 16-year old male" to lure his victims, according to Jill Steinberg, assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
In 2011, Cobb County chiropractor Michael Macaluso was sentenced to 30 years in prison on child pornography charges. According to Steinberg, Macaluso posed as both a boy and a girl depending on his victims' interests. He'd convince them to send a sexually explicit photograph then threatened to send the photograph to the child's family and friends if the victim didn't provide more images and videos.
"There is this stereotype of the sex offender hanging around the playground. In the modern era, the playground is the internet," said Steinberg.
In January, Christopher Gunn was sentenced to 35 years in prison for "sextorting" hundreds of girls across the country. According to prosecutors, Gunn either pretended to be a new boy in the neighborhood or Justin Bieber, depending on the victim.
"Once [Gunn] befriends them, he said, 'Look, if you want free tickets or want to come backstage when the concert's on, you need to show me something, you need to send me nude pictures,'" said U.S. Attorney George Beck of the Middle District of Alabama.
Cynthia Adkins of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the predators continue to devastate their victims long after the prison doors lock.
"They're scared to death that these images or videos will show up sometime later on in their life. The two victims I had in the Macaluso case, they both said they thought about suicide," said Adkins.
In 2012, Amanda Todd, 15, of Canada, committed suicide after years of harassment followed the release of a photograph she took on a webcam in the seventh grade.
Adkins suggests that parents monitor what their children are doing on computers and their smartphone.
"As long as there is an internet connection, the bad guys still have access to your kids," said Adkins.
Copyright 2013 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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