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How To Protect Teens from Catfishing and Sextortion

Over the past year, we have been tracking an unsettling uptick in to two very serious online threats.

The first is called “catfishing.” This is when someone pretends to be someone they are not in order to befriend you online. Sometimes a catfisher will use images and personal information from someone else’s social media account to create a new identity and sometimes they will create an entirely fake profile.

Last week a former Virginia police officer is believed to have murdered a teenager’s mother and grandparents after “catfishing” her online. According to authorities,

"We believed he portrayed himself as a teenager to develop an online relationship" with a teenage girl, Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a press conference Wednesday.

In response to this horrific event, we pre-released one of our new student videos about catfishing. It is being added to the Cyber Civics curriculum. This is our middle school digital literacy program currently being taught across the US. You can watch it here:

A Form of Catfishing is “Sextortion.”

"Sextortion" is a type of blackmail in which the attacker threatens to send intimate images or videos of the victim to others if they do not pay them or give them additional images or video. Although this can happen to anyone of any age or gender, attackers tend to target younger victims and in March of this year, the FBI warned of an increase in sextortion cases targeting young boys.

We discussed this sensitive topic in detail, with the help our our friend Darren Laur, aka “The White Hatter” in a recent Cyberwise Chat which you can watch here. “Sextortion” is also addressed in Level 3 of Cyber Civics, in a unit about “Sexting.” For more information about these important lessons for students, please contact us:

Diana Graber is the author of "Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology" (HarperCollins Leadership, '19) and founder of Cyber Civics and Cyberwise.

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