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Dangers of extortion: Officials urge families to talk to their kids after teen catfishing case

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Posted at 6:38 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 20:38:24-05

Jordan Demay was raised in Marquette in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and the handsome 17-year-old was a popular high school athlete. But then one day, it felt like his confident world was spiraling out of control.

Jordan Demay

Investigators say it started with a pretty girl Demay met on Instagram who asked him to exchange intimate images. And before he knew it, the person he thought was a new friend was blackmailing him, threatening to send the compromising photo to his family and friends if he didn't pay them.

Demay felt his world caving in. And less than six hours later, he'd taken his own life.

"It's interesting. In both our studies, we found boys were more likely to be targeted than girls," said Justin Patchin, Ph.D., at the Cyberbullying Research Center.

Patchin co-founded the Cyberbullying Research Center where for years, they've studied sextortion involving children. And he says it's on the rise with criminals engaging more and more with kids on social media.

"Boys sometimes make better targets because they're less likely to come forward. And there's even more of a stigma and a concern about, you know, them somehow getting into trouble for the behavior to begin with. And so that is a problem," Patchin revealed.

Fifteen-year-old Braden Markus of Ohio felt like he too was on top of the world. He was doing well in school and sports and had a smile that could light up a room. And in a Facebook post, his mother details what she's learned about a cyberbully's threats against him.

She says someone Markus thought was a teenage girl hounded him for a compromising picture. He sent it. And that's when what must've felt like hell began.

Braden Markus

The person demanding nearly $2,000 or they'd share the picture with the world.

Markus said, "I am only 15 why are you doing this to me, I am only 15, you will ruin my life." 27 minutes later, Markus took his own life.

"What's hard for young people especially is to go to a parent or teacher or counselor, an adult in their lives and say I made a mistake and this is happening," said Mara Schneider, special agent and public affairs officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Schneider says they've seen an increase in cases of children being threatened and coerced into not just sending money but also more pictures and videos. She says it's critical that kids know that they haven't done anything wrong. They are the victims.

"Our job is to find the person on the other end of that screen from you and hold them accountable for their actions," Schneider said.

"Never give pictures on social media. The internet itself is just a portal for open activity. So when you share those pictures online, they're out there," said Sgt. Christin Winans with the Detroit Police Department's Cyber Crimes unit.

She encourages children to reach out to their parents, a counselor or other responsible adult if they're being targeted. And she encourages parents to talk to their kids.

"Checking in with them daily or periodically just to see if everything's okay with them. Maybe there's something they want to talk about, they're just scared, scared of the outcome, fear of being in trouble or just admitting that maybe a victim," Winans said.

Teen arrested after allegedly catfishing students, using inappropriate photos to demand payments

Detroit police recently arrested a 15-year-old Oak Park High School student for the same kind of extortion of classmates. That student allegedly posed as a girl online and then demanded money and explicit videos.

"The fear of having their pictures or anything, what they say put out there is scary," said officer Garrett Micallef with the Detroit Police Department's Cyber Crimes unit.

Cybercrime investigators say if someone asks you for pictures, say no and block them.

And they want kids to know that even if they've sent a nude or compromising photo, you have to tell someone because someone who's blackmailing you will keep up the pressure.

"When they latch on to them, then that's when they start hitting with hard demands. And, you know, after they get an image or anything from the person now, they feel like they got them and now they own them. So, and then that's when it just becomes more severe," Micallef said.

"When people request explicit photos, they're probably have malice intent," Winans said.

"I think as parents, we need to make sure our kids understand that we are there for them no matter what," Patchin said.

Click this link for the FBI's tips on staying safe online.

This story was originally published by WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan.