(PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo.) — The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) is warning of a scam circulating the community in which scammers impersonate law enforcement.

PCSO said the “sextortion” scam involves perpetrators claiming to work for the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit. PCSO explained that sextortion is a form of child exploitation where children are threatened or blackmailed, most often associated with producing an explicit image.

In these cases, victims are interacting with someone online which eventually leads to sharing an explicit image with someone they thought they knew or trusted. In many cases, they are targeted by people they met online who obtained the images through deceit, coercion, or some other method.

The victim is then informed that in order to remove themselves from the situation, they must send money, a money order, or a gift card to the address of the scammer. PCSO reminds the public that it would never ask for any type of payment.

What makes this scam particularly worrisome is that PCSO said the real names of ICAC detectives have been used in these predatory scams, and the scammers claim to work locally or from agencies nationwide.

PCSO warned that predators use phones to stalk and blackmail children on social media and dating apps. One common sextortion trend targets boys between the ages of 14 and 17. Adult predators pretending to be young girls fake romantic interest in the victims through gaming platforms, apps, and social media sites.

The predators engaging in these crimes have honed their techniques and approaches to maximize their chances of success. Here are some of the common tactics these predators use to entice victims, according to PCSO:

  • Developing a false rapport with the victim
  • Secretly recording explicit videos and messages during chats
  • Using multiple identities to contact the child
  • Pretending to be younger or a member of the opposite sex
  • Hacking accounts to steal sexual images
  • Threatening to commit suicide if the victim refuses to send images
  • Visiting public social media profiles to find out more about the victim, including accessing the victim’s friend list and searching for other personal information that may harm the victim’s reputation

If you or someone you know is a victim of sextortion, there is help available. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) Cyber Tipline (CyperTipline.org) gives the public and electronic service providers the ability to report suspected child sexual exploitation, including sextortion and online enticement.

After NCMEC completes a review of a tip received, it compiles a report that is available to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. NCMEC can assist in getting images removed from online platforms. To learn more, go to MissingKids.org/IsYourExplicitContentOutThere.

NCMEC also offers a service “Take It Down”, which helps in removing nude, partially nude, and sexually explicit photos and videos of underage individuals by assigning a unique digital fingerprint, called a hash value, to the images or videos. Online platforms can use those hash values to detect these images or videos on their public or unencrypted services and take action to remove the content.