boy slumped over chair in sadness

A 17-year-old boy died by suicide hours after being scammed. The FBI says it’s part of a troubling increase in ‘sextortion’ cases

A tragedy took place when a teenage boy took his own life after being the victim of online sextortion. The boy was only 17 years old when he fell prey to a scam. The scammers then shamed him so far that he ended up taking his own life. The FBI is now warning parents about an increase in sextortion cases against teenagers.

Teenage Victim of Sextortion Takes His Own Life

It was a school night in February of 2022. Ryan Last’s mother, Pauline Stuart, had just said goodnight to her son and retired to her own room. It was not long after that when Ryan received a message from a girl around his age, or so he thought. At first the chat started normally, until the scammer (posing as a teenage girl), turned the conversation in a more intimate direction. The “girl” then sent Ryan an explicit photo of herself and asked for one from Ryan in return.

After Ryan shared a photo of himself, however, everything changed. The scammer then demanded $5000. If Ryan didn’t send the money, the criminal threatened to publicize his photo and send it to his friends and family. (1)

Ryan, a straight-A student who’d just recently gone visiting future colleges with his mother, told the criminal that he didn’t have that kind of money. Immediately, the scammer lowered the amount to just $150. Ryan paid them using his college savings, but the criminal continued to demand more and more money. Panicked and thinking that there was no way out, Ryan took his own life.

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Pauline Stuart and her son Ryan Last who became a victim of sextortion
Pauline Stuart and her son Ryan Last who became a victim of sextortion. Image Credit: Pauline Stuart | CNN

A Terrible Tragedy

This horrible scene played out entirely between the hours of 10 pm when Pauline said goodnight to her son, and 2 am. When she found her son, he had written her a note explaining why he did what he did. His note revealed how embarrassed the boy felt for both himself and his family. He truly thought there was no other option.

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“He really, truly thought in that time that there wasn’t a way to get by if those pictures were actually posted online,” Pauline said. “His note showed he was absolutely terrified. No child should have to be that scared.”

Read: She’s a model citizen, but she can’t hide in China’s ‘social credit’ system

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An Explosion of Sextortion Cases

The FBI says that they have been receiving record numbers of sextortion cases across the country. In 2021 alone there were more than 18,000 cases with losses of more than $13 million. Often these criminals use child pornography to lure their victims, which is a crime in and of itself. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dan Costin, who leads a team of investigators working to counter crimes against children, says that scamming children is another level of disgusting.

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“To be a criminal that specifically targets children — it’s one of the more deeper violations of trust I think in society,” Costin said.

The FBI says that they have traced the majority of the scammers to be from Africa and Southeast Asia. They are working with law enforcement around the world to try and catch scammers, bring them to justice, and stop the sextortion of innocent people and children. 

The biggest challenge they still face is the fact that many victims still do not report it. Sextortion often comes along with a lot of embarrassment and shame. For this reason, many still do not report when they’ve been scammed. Young teens, especially boys, are particularly vulnerable.

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“Teen brains are still developing,” said Dr. Scott Hadland, chief of adolescent medicine at Mass General in Boston. “So when something catastrophic happens, like a personal picture is released to people online, it’s hard for them to look past that moment and understand that in the big scheme of things they’ll be able to get through this.”

Read: ‘I’m 54 years old I’ve been Lonely my Whole Life.’

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How To Protect Your Kids Online

Pauline and the FBI are now spreading the word to other parents about protecting their children online. It is important that parents talk to their children about what they are doing online. Ask specific questions, such as if they have ever chatted with strangers online (there are many games that allow for player interaction). Find out what your kids are talking about online and warn them of scams. (2)

Make sure they know to never accept or send photos or important information. Most importantly, be sure they understand that they can come to you no matter what. If someone asks them something strange online, like for money, photos, or personal information, your kids need to know not to give it and instead come to you right away.

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“The most important thing that a parent should do with their teen is try to understand what they’re doing online,” she said. “You want to know when they’re going online, who they’re interacting with, what platforms they’re using. Are they being approached by people that they don’t know, are they experiencing pressure to share information or photos?”

Dr. Handland agrees.

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“You want to make it clear that they can talk to you if they have done something, or they feel like they’ve made a mistake,” he said.

Take this as your cue to talk to your kids tonight about what they do online. It could save their lives.

Keep Reading: Authorities discover more than 70 missing children in ‘Operation Lost Souls’

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Sources

  1. A 17-year-old boy died by suicide hours after being scammed. The FBI says it’s part of a troubling increase in ‘sextortion’ cases.CNN. May 23, 2022.
  2. 10 things every parent can do to keep their kids safe online.” Childrens. Laura Easterbrook.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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