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Pembina County sheriff warns of social media scam extorting kids for provocative pictures

Sheriff Terry Meidinger says one child fell for it.

Pembina County sheriff's deputy squad
A squad car is parked outside the Pembina County Sheriff's office.
Matt Henson / WDAY News
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CAVALIER, N.D. — Parents of children who use social media will want to read this. A new scam is going around targeting kids in an attempt to extort them.

Like thousands of young teens, 13-year-old Jayden Holmes loves having the power of social media at his fingertips.

"I can talk to my friends a lot and it's easy," he said.

However, sometimes he hears from strangers, especially on SnapChat.

"They will usually say something like if you give me $50 I'll give you $500, or something like that," he explained.

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The Pembina County sheriff says a much more concerning financial scam is going around. He said his department has received a number of reports of someone using social media apps like SnapChat and Instagram, asking for provocative pictures from minors in exchange for money. If they don't, the scammer threatens to harm them or their family. If an image is provided, the scammer then threatens to send that image to family and friends via social media apps unless they pay.

The sheriff says one person fell for it.

"It's a jaded view, but I'm not sure anything would truly surprise me," said Grand Forks Police Department lieutenant Derik Zimmel, who handles community outreach.

He says children are becoming an easy target, and are considered vulnerable through social media. He is urging kids to speak up about any scam message they may receive. He says it should be reported to police right away.

In the Pembina County case, he says this isn't a scam, but extortion, which is a crime.

In just three weeks, videos of Jason Doll's dirty work have been watched tens of millions of times.

"The truly tragic thing about stuff like this, and this we've seen in recent years where juveniles facing intense embarrassment and just being ostracized on social media, will choose self-harm as an escape," said Zimmel.

Jayden Holmes says he's never received any messages like that, but hopes other kids his age will listen to his advice, whether the message is threatening or not.

"I usually just try blocking them or unfriending them, because I feel like they could take my information," he said.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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