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The Disturbing Extortion Scheme Targeting Teen Boys

A catfishing scam that targets teen boys is on the rise, according to the FBI.


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Jordan DeMay's grave

The gravesite of Jordan DeMay in Marquette, Mi. on Sunday, March 17th, 2024. Photographer: Kevin Serna

In a frightening trend, scammers are catfishing teen boys and trying to extort them — and there have been tragic outcomes. The FBI says this type of crime, which it calls “sextortion,” is one of the fastest growing crimes targeting children in the US.

Here, host David Gura talks to Bloomberg investigative reporter Olivia Carville about how teen boys are targeted online — and how these crimes impact the victims and their families.

This episode discusses sensitive topics, including suicide. If you or someone you know needs help with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, a global list of help lines is available here .

Here is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation (full feature can be found here, podcast episode can be downloaded here):

David Gura: Before we start today’s show, I want to let you know that we are going to talk about suicide and some other tough subjects. If you or someone you know needs help … with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, a list of helplines is available at OpenCounseling.com. On March 24th, 2022, Jordan DeMay, a high school senior in Marquette, Michigan, was getting ready to leave the cold Upper Peninsula behind for spring break in Florida. That night, he was at his girlfriend's house.

Olivia Carville: They were kind of saying their goodbyes, as I'm sure you can imagine, at that age to be apart was a really big deal.

Gura: That's Olivia Carville. She’s an investigative reporter at Bloomberg.

Carville: So he was over at her house, he kissed her goodnight, he drove home, and started to pack for his trip for Florida the next day.

Gura: When Jordan got back to his dad’s house, he had a message on Instagram from someone he didn’t know – a teenage girl .

Carville: Initially, she just wrote to him and said, “Hey.”

Gura: That wasn’t out of the ordinary. Jordan was a high school football and basketball star, and he often heard from people he didn’t know.

Carville: He was repeatedly in the local newspaper for you know, his athletic successes so he was well known in that community and right across the upper peninsula

Gura: The message he got that night was from someone with the username “Dani Robertts.”

Carville: He replied asking who she was. She said that she was from Texas, but now doing school in Georgia. And they started chatting just about regular kind of teenage things, school life, and he was doing his laundry.

Gura: Dani and Jordan kept chatting – and a couple hours into the conversation it took a turn. She told Jordan she liked playing sexy games.

Carville: She then sends him a naked photograph of herself, and asks for one in return. But she sets some conditions on what she wants that photo to look like. She wants it to have his face in it, and she wants him to have a cute face or a cute expression. Jordan then goes down to his bathroom, and he takes a selfie in the mirror, exposing himself, and he sends that back to Dani.

Gura: And then, everything changed.

Carville: From there forward, the conversation spirals into what I can only describe as you know, one of the most dark, sadistic message exchanges I've ever witnessed, reading through the transcripts.

Gura: Today on the show: what happened to Jordan DeMay: inside a horrific and fast-growing form of cybercrime targeting teens.

I’m David Gura, and this is The Big Take from Bloomberg News.

The morning after Dani Robertts started that conversation with Jordan on Instagram, Jordan’s mom saw he had texted her during the night. Jordan was staying at his dad's house.

Jennifer Buta: I woke up about six o'clock in the morning to get ready for work and get my kids off to school. And I saw a text message from Jordan that came in the middle of the night that said, mother, I love you.

Gura: That's Jordan's mom, Jennifer Buta.

Buta: I texted him back immediately said, I love you too. I hope you got a good night's sleep. I continued to get ready. I drove my children to daycare. It was about seven o'clock, so I know that Jordan should be up about that time. And he didn't respond to me. And Jordan always responded to me. So I sent him another text that said, are you okay? And as I got home, I still had not received a text and something didn't feel right with me. Um, so I sent him a third text that just said, Jordan. I found out that Jordan was gone at 7:40 in the morning.

Gura: She got the news from Jordan's dad. John DeMay went to check on Jordan that morning and found that he had died by suicide.

John DeMay: The first 24 to 36 hours, you know, it was challenging to try to process what even happened. I mean, we were just so flabbergasted that we were, you know, the giant question mark -why? You know, we just couldn't figure it out. And we were going through all these scenarios and it was, you know, breaking up with his girlfriend or something going on. What happened? It is someone come at him. I mean, we just had no idea.

Carville: There were really no indications that Jordan had depression, that he was suffering from unhappiness, that he struggled with mental health. All those red flags that you might assume to see in a suicide case just weren't here.

Gura: Reporter Olivia Carville says his death confused investigators.

Carville: I remember talking to the lead detective who actually went on to really solve this case. When he walked into Jordan's bedroom the morning of his death, he understood the, the what of the case, this is how he described it to me. And by what I mean, what am I seeing? I am seeing this looks like a suicide case. But the why, the why that happened wasn't clear. And he looked around Jordan's bedroom and as a, as a detective you, you look for clues and all he saw was a, a bag packed for Florida with swimsuits and sunscreen. His cell phone the alarm on his cell phone kept going off. So why would he have set his alarm if he didn't intend to go to school the next day or didn't intend to wake up the next day? Every indication was that Jordan was planning to wake up the next morning And I think that was really confusing for the detective, and that gave him pause or made him realize there might be more to this than what's just on the surface.

Gura: Instagram transcripts helped law enforcement piece together what happened in those early-morning hours while Jordan was chatting with someone with the username Dani Robertts.

Carville: As soon as that nude picture is sent, that flirtatious teenage girl disappears. And what is left behind is someone cruel, who torments Jordan, who tells him that now that he has this nude photo, they're going to ruin his life.

Gura: Olivia obtained excerpts of those transcripts, and she read us the next message Dani sent Jordan:

Carville: I have screenshot all your followers and tags and can send this nudes to everyone. And also send your nudes to your family and friends until it goes viral. All you have to do is cooperate with me, and I won't expose you.

Gura: What Dani wanted … was money.

Carville: Initially, the amount that they agreed to was $300. As soon as he sent that money, they came back asking for more. Then they wanted $800. And Jordan actually sent a screenshot of his bank account showing that he only had $55 in it and he said he was willing to send everything he had to prevent them from sending that photo to his girlfriend. And they replied saying, no deal. And then there was this back and forth around 3am.

Gura: And at this point, Jordan started to sound really terrified.

Carville: Jordan: Why are you doing this to me? I am begging for my own life. Danny: Ten. Nine. Eight. I bet your girlfriend will leave you for some other dude. Jordan: I will be dead. Like I want to kill myself. Danny: Sure. I will watch you die a miserable death. Jordan: It's over. You win bro. I'm killing myself right now because of you. Danny: Good. Do that fast, or I'll make you do it. I swear to God.

I have no idea what was going through his mind. But from reading the messages that he was sending, it's clear that he was losing hope. And he didn't know where to go from here. So he, he made the decision to delete that entire message history with the Dani Robertts account. So around 3:30 am, Jordan send two text messages, one to his mom, another to his girlfriend. And then he kills himself.

Gura: The entire conversation took less than six hours. So, who was Dani Robertts? That's after the break.

Before the break, we heard about a conversation on Instagram Jordan DeMay had before he died by suicide. In less than six hours. Jordan went from packing for his spring break trip to taking his own life.

Carville: Everyone is just in shock, and the police start that investigation. Jordan's body is removed from the house. And no one knows what's happened. His phone gets sent to the Computer Crimes Unit for a forensic analysis. But it takes a few days to get that response back. So law enforcement are looking for clues in other areas.

Gura: And reporter Olivia Carville says, while that’s happening, Jordan DeMay’s friends and family, his teachers and classmates, and his girlfriend, Kyla, are trying to process what’s happened. Kyla can’t keep up with all the messages she’s getting on her phone.

Carville: People are calling her, texting her, they don't believe that Jordan's really dead. News of his death is spreading, and she's getting contacted by strangers on social media. And she's with a friend of hers, just trying to reckon with what's happened and she sees all of these messages coming through in the steady stream and she starts opening some of them and it was around three o'clock that afternoon that she opened one from an Instagram user called Dani Robertts. The message contained no words, it just had a photograph, and that was the nude photo that Jordan had sent the previous night.

Gura: Then, Kyla and Dani start to exchange messages. Here’s Olivia, reading from that transcript:

Carville: Kyla: What is this about? Dani: Do you know him? Kyla: Do you? Dani: Answer me. Kyla, who are you? Dani: I bet you know him. Kyla: That's my boyfriend. Why? Dani: I swear I will ruin his life with this. Kyla: He killed himself last night. Please don't. Dani: Do you want me to ruin his life? Kyla: He's gone. No.

Gura: It goes on like this: Then Dani tries to extort Kyla.

Carville: Dani: Do you want me to end this and delete the pics? Yes or no? Cooperate with me and this will end. Just do as I say and all this will end.

Gura: For law enforcement, this exchange was a critical clue.

Carville: When they saw the nature of that blackmail and the back and forth, the detective immediately thought this could be the why: the why Jordan DeMay decided to end his life. So he filed preservation requests to META to try and pull data from the platform to show what was said between Jordan DeMay's account and the Dani Robertts account. And as soon as he had that account and he saw what was discussed between the two, he searched for the IP address of that Dani Robertts account and it led him directly to Lagos, Nigeria.

Gura: And what law enforcement discovered was ... two brothers, in their early twenties, were posing as 'Dani Robertts.' Court records show Samson and Samuel Ogoshi had bought hacked Instagram accounts, including one belonging to the real Dani Robertts. In their emails, there was a word-for-word script of what was in the messages sent to Jordan. Olivia says these kinds of “sample” extortion scripts have been widely shared on the internet by a group called “the Yahoo Boys.”

Carville: And that comes from the email address that they use to try and swindle Westerners. Back in the day, decades ago, there was the Yahoo email scam or the Nigerian princes. They have evolved. This is the latest scam effort from this, you know, loosely affiliated online gang. And now instead of using traditional romance scams or preying on the elderly, they are directly targeting teenage boys across North America. These scammers are sharing information encouraging one another on what to say, how to say it, How do I act like a teenage girl? How do I make this believable? How do I turn the conversation flirtatious? How do I get that naked photo? And how do I blackmail effectively?

Gura: Olivia found videos on TikTok and Youtube in which people are sharing these blackmail scripts and encouraging one another. You can hear how matter-of-factly the scammers explain how to extort people.

YouTube Blackmailer 1: In today’s video, I’m going to explain about blackmailing update.

Youtube Blackmailer 2: These are the pictures that you need to start the job.

Gura: Both companies said in written statements that they had removed posts related to this scam that have been brought to their attention and vowed to continue to take down such content. But we found similar content still exists on both TikTok and YouTube. Olivia read a report, by Paul Raffile. He's an analyst at the Network Contagion Research Institute who's documented hundreds of thousands of posts on social media like these.

Carville: He found a post of exactly what was sent to Jordan DeMay down to the typos, and that had more than half a million views.

Buta: I was completely surprised.

Gura: This is Jordan’s mom Jenn Buta .

Buta: The FBI had put out a press release the day before this happened to Jordan warning parents. And, you know, that was all brand new information to me.

Carville: The FBI has said they're aware of more than 12, 000 victims across North America right now. They're putting out PSAs to try and stop it, which is what they think. You know, the only thing we can really do to try and prevent or curb this crime.

Gura: But Jordan’s parents do think there is something else that could prevent this from happening to other families – they want social media platforms to take action. Jordans parents' have filed a lawsuit against Meta, Instagram’s parent company.

DeMay: They're literally allowing criminals to thrive on them and they're not doing enough to prevent it. They've been to congressional hearings time and time again, and it's the same song and dance. And they're protected by a federal law in Section 230 that basically gives them carte blanche liability that says no matter what happens on our platforms, we're not held liable no matter what we do. So, sorry that crime is happening, but it's not our problem.

Gura: In a statement, Meta’s global head of safety said sextortion “is a horrific crime,” and the company has “spent years building technology to combat it and to support law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting the criminals behind it.” And Olivia says the platforms have been taking action:

Carville: They have been doing things like sending sextortion-focused warnings to users of their products. They have been using artificial intelligence to try and detect suspicious accounts. They have been— just recently Meta announced it was going to use AI to blur nudity in photos that are sent between accounts and doing what they can from a trust and safety standpoint to try and proactively stop this crime. But, you know, the bad actors are savvy, and as soon as a guardrail is put up, they come up with ways to evade it, get over it, get under it, and the crime keeps changing as the social media networks create ways to prevent it.

Gura: Meta said it tracks new trends so it can, quote “regularly improve [its] tools and systems.”The case filed by John DeMay and Jenn Buta is part of a group lawsuit, alleging social media companies have harmed children by designing addictive products. Meta said the company can’t respond to questions about pending litigation. There's also a criminal case, involving the two brothers who targeted Jordan DeMay. They were extradited from Nigeria to the U-S, and last week, they pleaded guilty to conspiring to sexually exploit teenagers online. I talked to Jordan's parents after those guilty pleas. They'd driven from Marquette to watch the court proceedings in person.

DeMay: The emotional part was just, you know, wrapping our mind around that. These two guys that I'm looking at in the courtroom, you know, were the ones that were torturing my son that night. And we were finally getting some admission from them out of their own mouths.

Buta: I was hoping that someone would be held accountable for what happened to Jordan. And yesterday, with those guilty pleas, someone is being held accountable and that is justice for Jordan, justice for our community. It will never bring my son back. It does not change my life. It does not change the pain I feel, how much I miss my son every single day. And, overall, it's an extremely unfortunate situation that involves not just our family, but the family of these two individuals as well. And it's not good what happened for anybody. And as a mom, I struggle with feeling bad for their mom, that she probably is really missing them and she's an innocent bystander, just like I am.

Gura: Jordan’s mom, Jenn, says she hopes the outcome will send a message to extortionists.

Buta: That you can be found, you can be brought here and held accountable and that our US Department of Justice is willing to do that in order to keep our kids safe.

Gura: But Jenn Buta has a message of her own, for other families.

Buta: I want parents to sit down and have a very open conversation with their children about who they talk to on social media. And if something doesn't seem right, it doesn't feel right. If someone's asking you for money or favors or pictures, you should question that. There needs to be an ongoing conversation with kids. Also letting them know that if they are targeted by someone, it's going to be okay. And to go for an adult—a trusted adult—for help. Law enforcement does want to help you. You are the victim. You are not doing anything wrong. And this is just a small blip in your life that even if you did send a photo, your life will go on and nobody will recall that this happened.

Gura: If you or someone you know needs help with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, a list of helplines is available at OpenCounseling.com.

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This post originally appeared on Bloomberg and was published April 16, 2024. This article is republished here with permission.

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