PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria County Sheriff’s Office announced on Facebook Friday that “many local citizens” have been extorted via a blackmail scheme and warned what to do if it happens to you.

According to the Facebook post, the Sheriff’s Office has investigated several reports of citizens being subject to blackmail or threats, most of them being teenage boys. These victims are being threatened with the release of personal images or videos of an explicit nature, which may have been provided with or without consent.

In many cases, the post warns, blackmailers are using fake accounts, are primarily overseas, and are requesting payment through gift cards.

While blackmail is not a new crime, the increase in local cases has caught the attention of federal investigators, and the United States Secret Service has assigned an investigator for all local reports.

Below are steps recommended by the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office if you have been targeted:

  • Remember the blackmailer is to blame, not you. Even if you made a choice you regret, what they are doing is a crime.
  • Contact the police. Do not send any money and/or comply with the blackmailer. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail.
  • Report the account via the platform’s safety feature.
  • Block the suspect but DO NOT DELETE your profile or messages because that can be helpful in stopping the blackmailer and investigating the incident.
  • Communicate with your children about internet/social media safety.
  • Visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s website for further information.