6th graders selling feet pictures online to strangers, parents unaware

Apr 7, 2023, 5:00 PM | Updated: 6:03 pm


(Photo by Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

(Photo by Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It started with my daughter asking if I could paint her toenails so her friend could take pics of her feet and then upload them to social media. She said her friend could get up to $25 for the photos. I paused because my brain couldn’t process what I was hearing. I inquired kindly because I wanted my daughter to keep talking.

The short of it was this friend takes regular feet pics and sells them online. My wife and I took this moment seriously and explained to our 11-year-old why posting body pics online and selling them is wrong.

At first, I didn’t believe what I was hearing. So, like any other parent, I googled ‘Do teens sell feet pics’ and, low and behold, they do. The dangerous trend became popular during the lockdown when we were home-schooling and working remotely, according to Detective Brandon James of the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

According to James, the foot pictures are often used for the sexual gratification of the buyers, and it’s not a crime to buy or sell them.

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James is also the assistant commander of the Washington State Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the lead agency for the statewide task force with approximately 140 law enforcement agencies all across the state training how to investigate internet crimes against children.

The task force gets cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, with reports coming from companies like Google, Facebook, or Snapchat. Federal law requires internet-based companies to report any potential child sexual abuse material.

“I receive all those reports for all of Washington State. I go through each and every single one of them,” James said. “I think the numbers [of reports] are holding steady, we’re about 75-100 for the year coming into Washington State. My team and I look at every single one of those and decide if there is a solvability factor.

“Besides those kinds of investigations, we have undercover investigators who are going out online, either posing as underage child victims, looking for individuals who are intent on causing harm to children, or we have other personas that we pose online, just looking for individuals who are online looking to have sex with children,” James continued.

He said it’s not illegal in the state of Washington for a child to sell feet pictures online, nor is it illegal for an adult to buy the photos.

“Where you start getting into different issues is if an adult is having a conversation with a minor, whether that’s part of the grooming process, or there’s online enticement,” James said. “Now, there are laws against that. And you know, the pictures of feet are just a starting point to open the door to what can I get this kid to do? What else can I get them to take a photo of? And if it started with feet, it oftentimes will go to something else — like a bathing suit.”

He added that if a child is willing to sell pictures of their feet, what else are they willing to do?

James told KIRO Newsradio that social media websites and apps like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram have to report any possible nude or explicit image of what may be a child to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an organization that works with all law enforcement agencies.

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He said teens/tweens selling foot pics online isn’t the only issue, as the number of exploited children has steadily risen since the start of the pandemic.

“As I mentioned, oftentimes, when we think of kids being online and being groomed, we have this vision in our minds that it’s a young girl, and there’s a creepy old guy on the other end, and is trying to communicate with our teen or preteen girls, and how inappropriate all that is, and it very much is, but we are seeing a huge problem occur,” James said. “This is sextortion, where our teenage boys are now the victim. What is happening is that they’re receiving friend requests and messages on Snapchat, Instagram, and other platforms, and what they see coming from a very attractive, same- or similar-aged girl who says, ‘Hey, I’m going to share my photos. Share your photos as well’ and when they do, it’s nude photos or sometimes videos. The young boy thinks absolutely. Somebody wants to see me nude, I guess. And they fall for it.”

Sextortion is defined as a non-physical form of coercion to extort sexual favors, typically seen online.

James explained that as soon as the boy sends it, he is extorted, as the person on the other side demands anywhere from $50 to $500 or even more on Cash App or Venmo.

“And we’re finding that this is both a U.S.-based and internationally-based scam that law enforcement all across the country, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations internationally are aware of this, and we’re investigating,” James said.

He stated this crime is so common, he investigated a sextortion case within the last 48 hours.

“Do not give any money whatsoever. Do not provide any money. There’s also going to be an inconvenience because we are going to ask that you shut down your social media, especially the platform you were sharing on,” James said. “You probably have to create some new emails and some new usernames. If you just say no to the money, block the individual, and shut down that account, you can create a new account, but then we have supervision and education, right?

“As a parent, now you have a conversation with your young teen, ‘now you realize how important it is not to accept friend requests from people you don’t know,’ ” James continued. “But obviously, you’re not going to be sharing your images of yourself from this point forward.”

James said these situations can become tragic, as a young man who was entangled in a sextortion incident became so embarrassed that, within hours of being sextorted, he took his own life.

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“He decided within eight hours of the initial sextortion to take his own life,” James shared. “And it’s not to say that all teen suicides are related to this, but one thing here at the Seattle Police Department, we’re trying to get the message out to patrol officers and other investigators that if you’re dealing with a teen situation, particularly a teen death or a teen suicide, they should really be looking at the teen’s phone, because the clues are likely going to be in that phone. And it’s teams like mine that have to be able to have the resources and the forensic capability to look at what’s going on to really help those parents.”

Parents need to have this conversation with their child, and to listen and observe. If one day your child is happy and outgoing and is in a dark place the next, you need to investigate. Check their phones, James warns, as no kid should have a lock or passcode on their phones.

If you believe your child is being exploited, James stated it’s better to make the report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children through its cyber tip-line or by calling 1-800-843-5678.

Follow Micki Gamez on Twitter or email her here.

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6th graders selling feet pictures online to strangers, parents unaware