SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A family in mourning following the death of a 17-year-old boy in California who died by suicide after being the victim of a scam. 22News learned that it is part of what the FBI is calling a troubling increase of ‘sextortion’ cases.

22News spoke with the Springfield Police Department about this trend. Springfield Police Department Spokesperson Ryan Walsh told 22News that this scam has made it to western Massachusetts and added that teen boys and young men are typically the targets of this scam.

“The rule of thumb is, don’t put anything on your phone you wouldn’t want your parents to see,” said Ryan Walsh.

A teenager in California is gone too soon, tragically ending his own life after falling victim to a scam from an online predator. The FBI says this incident is part of a growing number of scams called ‘sextortion’, which sexually exploits its victims.

According to the FBI, sextortion is a serious crime, and it happens when someone threatens to distribute sensitive material, like nude photos, if you don’t provide them sexual images, sexual favors, or money. Anyone with access to the internet can become a target of this scam.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported between 2015 and 2018 that there have been just over 5,000 reports of sextortion of minors.

“99% of the time we find out here that if it is a scam, usually they have no way of knowing who your family members are or who your friends are. It’s oftentimes people from other countries who are doing this online,” said Walsh. “But it can be someone that knows you that’s trying to hurt you and scam you or trying to get money off of you.”

The FBI urges parents to talk with their kids about the dangers of the internet and talk to people they meet online. Warn them of the consequences of partaking in risky behavior online, including sending photos, and regularly reinforce that they are not at fault if they become a victim of a sextortion scam, and let someone know about any suspicious interactions on the internet.

“It’s very sad, especially during COVID, people are lonely and you can’t connect with people in another way, so it’s easy to trust someone when you are that lonely and you need that. To have that trust breached is just really terrible,” said Maryn Graskey of Northampton.

And if you think you are a victim of a sextortion scam, report it immediately to your local FBI or law enforcement. Officials also say you can protect your computer from these kinds of scams by keeping your software up to date.