'Sextortion' investigation continues to search for possible victims

The Minneapolis FBI is searching for more victims of a five year sextortion scheme aimed at teens.

Earlier this month, 31-year-old Yue Vang of St. Paul pleaded guilty in connection with the online sextortion scheme using 75 different accounts and personas. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brenda Born said that as of Wednesday, her investigative team had identified 500 girls across the country but that evidence shows there may have been hundreds more targeted. Born said a majority of the victims who engaged with Vang believed he was female.

“Originally, when he was reaching out to victims he was portraying himself to be a young male,” Born said. “He did change and his persona became a young female.”

Born said the number of victims Vang was able to pursue is extraordinarily high compared to other offenders she has seen that have been federally prosecuted. Born’s team identified more than 1,000 accounts that were potentially involved, but have only confirmed about half.

“We have not been able to identify any accomplices at this point,” Born said. “Our assessment is this was one individual able to cause this much psychological harm to youth.”

The FBI has set up a page dedicated to identifying Vang’s victims by sharing his various social media accounts and asking potential victims to fill out a questionnaire.

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As summer approaches, Born warned of increased risk for sexual exploitation of children who are spending more time online and using mobile apps. Born urges parents to talk openly with their children about what they are sharing online and how to prevent being targeted.

For example, Born said, if a teenager is on an online gaming website and someone asks them to move to an app, they should be suspicious of that.

Vang is accused of luring mostly 12 to 17-year-olds into sending images to his various accounts and personas on social media platforms like Kik, Snapchat and Skype. Then, Vang threatened to release the images to the victim's families if they did not pay him or create more explicit content for him. In addition to one count of threatening extortion across state lines, Vang pleaded guilty to two counts of producing pornography and one count of possession of pornography.

"This is preventable if parents can have those conversations with their kids to not take these pictures and images to begin with," Born said. “If you don’t physically know them, just because they are providing an image, that does not mean that is the person you are communicating with.”

Born said predators use images of previous victims to target new people and then research potential victims’ sports teams or where they live to make their messages more convincing.

“That awareness applies to anyone online, not just teenagers,” Born said.

Born said she has seen an increase in predators extorting for financial gain. Born said there are also services available for victims to help with the healing process.

“A lot of our victims have this embarrassment and don’t want to tell anyone,” Born said. “We want them to reach out, they have done nothing wrong.”