Following the the tragic news that a teenage football player from Michigan committed suicide , cybersecurity experts are warning teens and parents of the ever-increasing dangers of sharing suggestive images with strangers.
With unscrupulous operators around the globe now enjoying unfettered access to artificial intelligence, and AI-generated pornography can be created with a few mouse clicks.
These advancements raise the stakes on what’s known as sextortion: when individuals are blackmailed after sending compromising photos, texts or information to someone who turns out to be a scammer.
And they’re making vigilance more important than ever.
Jordan DeMay, 17, took his own life after into sending compromising photos of himself through Instagram to who he thought was an interested girl.
The scammers hacked the girl’s account, solicited nudes from DeMay and demanded a $1,000 ransom or they would send the pics to his friends and family.
DeMay’s was one of more than a dozen suicides brought on by sextortion recorded last year — a major crime that had 3,000 victims that year, mainly young men and boys, according to the FBI.
On June 5, the bureau warned that technological advances in AI will bring such scams to a nightmarish new high .
“The FBI continues to receive reports from victims, including minor children and non-consenting adults, whose photos or videos were altered into explicit content,” according to an FBI release.
“As of April 2023, the FBI has observed an uptick in sextortion victims reporting the use of fake images or videos created from content posted on their social media sites or web postings, provided to the malicious actor upon request, or captured during video chats.”
AI is so powerful now that any ordinary person can create believable, fake content at a large scale — no advanced training required, Lisa Palmer, chief AI strategist for the consulting firm AI Leaders, told The Post.
Here are some steps parents can take to protect their teens from falling victim to a growing threat.
Privacy settings to the max
For the better part of two decades, scammers have scoured the social media world for their victims.
Now with the ability to manipulate innocent content — pulling clips or photos from a person’s profile — it’s doubly important to drill down on effective privacy settings. Make sure to clamp down your content with extremely restrictive settings so that it’s visible only to people within your tightknit network.
Otherwise, anyone online can have access to it, Palmer advises.
Read the fine print of social media terms
It’s highly common for social apps to share much of a person’s usage data, personal information and sometimes biometrics to third parties, as noted deep in their terms and conditions. Albeit tedious and time consuming, Palmer said that actually reading through these agreements in depth is the best practice to ensure your data, photos and more do not wind up in the hands of bad actors.
She recommends using AI for good to do this.
“You can copy the terms and conditions into a language model like ChatGPT and have it break down all of the most risky things you’re agreeing to,” Palmer said.
Have an honest conversation
The best way to prevent teenagers from putting themselves in harm’s way online remains informing them of the life-altering risks, cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg said.
“You do want to prevent them from being in dangerous situations, but you have to educate them. There’s just no substitute … There is no technological way to prevent these types of [dangerous] communications from happening online,” he told The Post.
While “there are many technologies out there that seek to do it, none of them are perfect,” Steinberg said. “You cannot control what your child has access to with 100% certainty.”
He added that teens are savvy at hiding their online activity and sometimes have a second, cheap mobile device hidden.
Palmer also warns parents that kids may find ways to hide suggestive apps on their phones so that they are unseen while others are around.
It is also critical for parents to let their kids know that they can and should come to them if they are victims of sextortion, stressed Frank Ahearn, a privacy expert who consults with people who are being blackmailed.
“One of the big problems is that there’s nowhere for kids to go,” Ahearn told The Post, adding that frantic teenage boys will often contact him but he can’t do anything to help because they are underage.
“I tell them, ‘You have to contact your parents, they love you, they will listen to you,’” he said. “But they’re just so deadly afraid to do that.”