ZB

'Sextortion': Teen received a text on a school night. Hours later he was dead

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 May 2022, 1:23pm
Ryan Last and his mother, Pauline Stuart. Photo / CNN
Ryan Last and his mother, Pauline Stuart. Photo / CNN

'Sextortion': Teen received a text on a school night. Hours later he was dead

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 May 2022, 1:23pm

WARNING - TRIGGERING CONTENT 

Ryan Last was a straight-A student and a teen who seemed to enjoy life. 

The future was bright and he had recently been looking at a range of universities to attend. 

But one school night the 17-year-old US teen received a text message from someone he thought was a girl. 

Interested, he responded back. But hours later, he was dead after taking his own life. 

Fighting back the tears, his mother Pauline Stuart opened up about the dangers of online sextortion and how her son's life was tragically cut short. 

"Somebody reached out to him pretending to be a girl, and they started a conversation," she told CNN. 

A scammer - posing as a young girl - began chatting away and the conversation quickly became intimate. 

She sent Ryan a nude photo and asked him to share an explicit image of himself back in return. 

Ryan obliged and sent an intimate photo back. But minutes later the scammer threatened to make the photo public and send it to his family and friends if he didn't give them US$5000. 

The teen told the cybercriminal he couldn't afford it before the demand was lowered to just US$150. 

Many victims of sextortion do not report the incidents to police. Photo / CNN

Many victims of sextortion do not report the incidents to police. Photo / CNN 

After paying the funds from his college funds, they demanded more. 

"They kept demanding more and more and putting lots of continued pressure on him," Stuart said. 

Around 10pm, his mum said goodnight to him and saw no signs of any stress. 

By 2am, he had taken his own life. 

His parents found a note left behind by Ryan explaining how embarrassed he was of himself and the shame he thought he'd bring on his family. 

"He really, truly thought in that time that there wasn't a way to get by if those pictures were actually posted online," Stuart said. 

"His note showed he was absolutely terrified. No child should have to be that scared." 

Stuart is hoping her son's avoidable and tragic death will help educate other families and teens so that they do not lose a loved one to scammers. 

US police called the scam "sextortion", saying they've had an explosion of complaints from victims leading the FBI to ramp up a campaign to warn parents and families. 

The bureau says there were over 18,000 sextortion-related complaints in 2021, with losses in excess of US$13 million. 

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dan Costin says many victims of sextortion don't report incidents. 

"The embarrassment piece of this is probably one of the bigger hurdles that the victims have to overcome. 

"It can be a lot, especially in that moment." 

Ryan's mother agrees. 

"You need to talk to your kids because we need to make them aware of it. 

"How could these people look at themselves in the mirror knowing that $150 is more important than a child's life? 

"There's no other word but 'evil' for me that they care much more about money than a child's life. 

"I don't want anybody else to go through what we did." 

Medical experts say there is a key reason why young males are particularly vulnerable to sextortion scams. 

"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. 

"The most important thing that a parent should do with their teen is try to understand what they're doing online. 

"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?" 

Hadland said it's also critical that parents specifically warn teens of scams like sextortion, without shaming them. 

"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. 

Where to get help: 
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7) 
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) 
• Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7) 
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) 
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (12pm to 11pm) 
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7) 
• Anxiety helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7) 
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. 

SEXUAL HARM 
Sexual harm - Where to get help 
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111. 
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7: 
• Call 0800 044 334 
• Text 4334 
• Email [email protected] 
• For more info or to web chat visit safetotalk.nz 
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list. 
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it's not your fault. 

MALE SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVORS 
Where to get help 
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111. 
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on 0800 044 334 or text 4334. (available 24/7) 
• Male Survivors Aotearoa offers a range of confidential support at centres across New Zealand - find your closest one here. 
• Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata: 0800 94 22 94 (available 11am-8pm) 
• Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list. 
If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.