DENVER (KDVR) — Predators, lurking on the internet, are looking to trap teens into sending compromising photos so they can then blackmail them.

It’s called sextortion. There were at least 44,000 cases in the U.S. in 2021, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The FBI said the predators lurk on video game apps and social media.

“These predators are very manipulative, very savvy. They know where children hang out online. Sometimes they pose as fellow children,” said Leonard Carollo, FBI Denver Division Assistant Special Agent In Charge.

Many times, teens are looking for fun and companionship, and they trust the person they’re talking to — and that’s what predators are counting on.

“Many children are not aware of the true dangers they can encounter online,” Carollo said. The scam begins when the predator gains the child’s trust and then pressures them to provide sexual material.

Carollo told FOX31 that the predator will then continue to coerce, entice, groom and encourage the child to produce more material. If the child begins to refuse, then the predator threatens that the compromising material will be shared with his or her family and friends or posted online unless money is paid.

Sextortion red flags: What to be aware of

Carollo said parents need to be aware of the red flags that indicate their child could be a victim.

“They’re embarrassed, they’re ashamed, they’re guilty, so parents might notice that they are detached. They might notice some stress in the victim. We’ve had children who have engaged in self-harm,” he said.

The FBI said these are underreported. Making a report can help other children, because predators usually target more than one child at a time.

The FBI offers an outreach program for communities. For more information about the signs of sextortion and how to report the crime, visit the FBI’s website.