Melanie Hempe, founder of ScreenStrong, says she began the organization to help parents deal with screen-related problems young people face today. One terrible and worsening problem is known as “sextortion,” when an online scammer uses a sexual conversation and blackmail to demand money from a victim.
"Parents can't fathom the degree with which this sextortion problem is penetrating our culture today,” she tells AFN.
One tragic case involves Walker Montgomery, a 16-year-old Mississippi teen who took his life after being pulled into a scam online. What began with a text message from a teen girl was actually an sextortion attempt from a scammer overseas. And it worked.
The young man’s heartbroken father, Brian Montgomery, says his son was a talented football player with lots of friends when one late-night text message changed his life for good.
"My wife and I pride ourselves of being aware and conscientious parents, you know,” the father tells AFN. “So if we'd have known that this was even a possibility, we'd have taken steps to make our kids aware of it."
"That is a very sad ending to a sextortion story,” Hempe says of Montgomery’s death, “but they all end very sad. In other cases I've worked with, the kids are in therapy. They have post-traumatic stress disorder. They will never be exactly the same."
After losing his son in the blackmail sex scheme, the late teenager’s father has learned more about the evil scheme that claimed his life. He has learned sextortion cases have jumped over the last year and a half. Young males are the most frequent victim.
He has also learned the Ivory Coast and Nigeria are two of the hotbeds for these scams. Walker's scammer was in Nigeria.
The grieving father is now trying to warn other families and young men by speaking to church youth groups and in schools. He is also urging lawmakers to help protect kids online.
"We're asking our government to pass a bill called the Kids Online Safety Act,” Montgomery says, referring to a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year.