SURREY, B.C. — For just a few minutes last year, police say a Metro Vancouver boy communicated online with someone he thought was a teenage girl, sending her intimate photos.
But the person at the other end of the interaction on social media was a criminal in Nigeria, Mounties in Surrey, B.C., said Tuesday, as they announced sextortion-related charges had been laid against a man in the West African nation.
Sgt. Derek Bonner said the boy's "sudden" death last February prompted an investigation that found he had been the victim of "financial sextortion."
The suspect "blackmailed the youth with threats to share the photos with his family and friends unless he complied with demands of purchasing gift cards," RCMP said.
Bonner said the online interaction between the boy and the suspect lasted only minutes, "a short-term communication back-and-forth contained within one day."
The Mounties didn't name the boy, but Sgt. Tammy Lobb confirmed during Tuesday's news conference that he had been correctly identified in previous media reports, which said he was a 14-year-old from Surrey who died by suicide.
Bonner said investigators determined last May that the suspects in the boy's case were operating in Nigeria. Officers from the Surrey detachment travelled to Lagos late last July, where they helped in the arrests of two men in August, he said.
One man was later released, while Adedayo Olukeye, 26, has been charged under Nigerian law with offences including possession and distribution of child pornography, attempted extortion by threats and money laundering, Bonner said.
The man remains in custody awaiting trial, Bonner said.
The arrests in Nigeria involved Surrey RCMP, the FBI,the Australian Federal Police and Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crime Commission, he said.
Police provided a statement from the boy's family, saying he was an "innocent child" who loved life and loved hockey, and he was taken advantage of.
"As we grieve the loss of our son, we want other parents to know this could happen to anyone," the statement said.
"Talk to your kids about internet safety, and keep the door to communication open, so they can come to you for help."
A statement from Premier David Eby said the boy's case was "every parent's worst fear realized."
"We must protect kids from online predators. And we must hold social media companies accountable when they fail to provide a safe environment," he said.
Sgt. Dave Knight told the RCMP news conference that financial sextortion is a "public safety crisis that is heavily impacting youth globally," including in B.C.
"Online child sexual extortion is a borderless crime, and these offenders have direct access to our children by targeting them through their phones, mobile devices and gaming consoles," he said.
Knight said police "cannot fight these predators alone," and they're urging parents and guardians to learn the signs that a young person may be a victim of sextortion.
Surrey RCMP alone have received more than 500 reports of sexual extortion over the last two years, with 210 in 2022 and 302 in 2023, he told the news conference.
He said the victims last year ranged from 10 to 21 years old, and 21 per cent of victims were under 18. Most were male, Knight said.
"It is important to note that these are reported incidents, and that we do not know the total number of sextortions that go unreported," he added.
"We urge youth and parents to come forward with this information."
The Mounties' announcement about the investigation comes after the B.C. government launched a series of measures designed to tackle online harms.
Last month, the premier said the moves were in direct response to incidents such as the death of 12-year-old Carson Cleland in Prince George, B.C., who police have said took his own life after falling prey to online sextortion last October.
Eby said the measures include services to help with the removal of predatory images from the internet, and legislation expected this spring that would allow B.C. to sue social media companies for costs relating to "population-level" harms.
— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.
The Canadian Press