WOODBURY, Minn. (WCCO) — Woodbury police are investigating several cases of online predatory scams called “sextortion” and teenagers on Instagram are the targets.

Investigators say in most cases, scammers send direct messages to teenagers asking them for an explicit photo, then they demand money to keep that photo private and threaten to share it with that teenager’s Instagram followers if they don’t get paid.

This crime is not just limited to Woodbury. Investigators say this is a state and nationwide problem that all teenagers and their parents need to be aware of.

“This is a multilevel catfish,” said Paul Kroshus, a Woodbury detective investigating these cases. He says this kind of crime has been happening frequently since the end of 2020.

“The initial reports that we took in were only about a fourth of what have actually identified as victims, which just goes to show how unreported this crime actually is,” he said.

Imran Ali with the Washington County Attorney’s Office says the worst thing a parent can do, when it comes to protecting their child is to ban social media all together. Ali says that just encourages teenagers to use secret means of getting online. Instead, Ali say talk to your child openly about social media and set boundaries.

“When you do have those conversations is to make sure that when they do have a social media page, that is marked private,” Ali said. “Make sure to never accept a friend request from somebody unless they know them, to have no personal information on there, like their address, where they live, their city, what school they go to and to really make sure that anybody that they communicate with is a known individual.”

Linda Walker is a St. Paul mom to three teenage daughters who are all on social media. She says she nurtures an open communication with them.

“Communication, constantly communicating with them and that way they feel free to do their social media by me and I can kind of see what they’re up to and know their friends better,” Linda Walker said.

No matter how much they share with her, she says she’ll always worry about their online activity.

“You can’t be right by their side introducing them to everybody you know, so you don’t know who they’re talking to,” Walker said.

Woodbury police have not shared any arrest details yet. However, a lot of the evidence they found has been linked to some IP addresses in Nigeria.

Marielle Mohs