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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Harrop: Creeps hunting children on social media

By Froma Harrop
Published: April 25, 2024, 6:01am

We have entered a new social media hell, where online creeps run sadistic schemes targeting high school kids. Since late 2021, their ruses have driven at least 20 young people, mostly boys, to take their lives.

One victim was a 17-year-old star athlete at Marquette Senior High School in Michigan named Jordan DeMay. As reported by Bloomberg News, handsome and blond, Jordan was used to getting friend requests from girls on social media. So when someone calling him or herself Dani Robertts sent an Instagram message with a picture of a cute teen with her dog, Jordan’s interest was piqued.

As their chitchat moved into the night, it turned highly flirtatious. “Dani” sent Jordan a nude photo of a girl, presumably her. She asked the 17-year-old to send a “sexy pic” of himself that included his face.

Jordan complied and quickly received the cruelest reply: “I got all I need rn (right now) to make your life miserable dude.”

The creep revealed knowledge of Jordan’s high school, his parents’ names and their address. There was a photo collage of Jordan’s family and friends with the nude shot of himself in the middle.

“Dani” demanded $300 to go away, and Jordan sent it to them via Apple Cash. Then the creature wanted $800.

“Dani” made it clear they weren’t going away, and kept tormenting Jordan.

At one point, the high school student wrote, “I will be dead. Like I want to KMS (kill myself).”

And the Dani creature replied, “Sure. I will watch you die a miserable death.”

Jordan was later found dead in his bed, a pistol in his hand.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says tips about similar extortion rackets are coming in from all over the country.

It noted the ease of committing these crimes. They are not about sex where someone would have to make physical contact. They are about money that can be cleanly transferred electronically.

One can go parental here and urge teens to not send compromising pictures of themselves to anyone ever. But there are all sorts of impersonation scams that can look convincing even to those who have been around the block.

I think I’m pretty smart about these things, but I, too, was almost tricked into wiring money to some con artist impersonating a contractor who did work in my home.

The email accurately stated my home address and exactly how much we owed for what. It showed the contractor’s letterhead and came from an email address that looked like his. (I initially didn’t notice the extra “s” inserted in the middle.)

The message greeted us by first name and was written in the contractor’s breezy style. It said his payment system was being changed. Henceforth, I was not to mail him checks as I had done for years but wire the money. It provided all the banking information for sending the payments to that account.

I went to the bank with the email containing the account numbers for wiring the money. The bank rep couldn’t figure out how to do it, thank goodness, and I went home frustrated.

I called the contractor and asked why the heck he wasn’t accepting mailed checks anymore.

He said, “What?!” He hadn’t asked me to wire the money.

At that point an entire marquee of light bulbs turned on. We realized that someone had gotten into his system.

My risk was losing money. These teenager victims are losing their lives. And things are going to just get worse, thanks to the proliferation of deepfakes, videos of people whose face or body has been digitally altered look like someone else.

Something must be done, but what the heck what?