A 15-year-old teenager has committed suicide in what his family have described as 'a split second of madness' after he was blackmailed by online extortioners for $3,500 over 'personal' images they scammed him into sending.
Riley Basford died on March 30 at his father's home in Potsdam, upstate New York, just hours after he was bombarded with online threats as part of a catfishing scam.
The teen, who had dreams of being an environmental conservationist police officer, was targeted by someone who posed as a girl and befriended him, his family told WWNY.
New York State Police issued a warning to parents and teenagers about the scams, after learning of more than a dozen similar incidents where young people have fallen victim to scams online.
A 15-year-old teenager has committed suicide in what his family have described as 'a split second of madness' after he was blackmailed for $3,500 over 'personal' images on social media. Pictured Riley Basford
Riley's grieving family said the high school sophomore had been his usual self the morning of the day he died.
His mom Mary Rodee told Watertown Daily Times she had taken him to get braces for the first time before he went to his father's house in Potsdam where he fed their cows and chatted to his uncle and stepmom.
His family later learned that Riley started receiving blackmail threats at around midday.
The 15-year-old, who was known as 'Riser' to his loved ones, had been speaking to an individual he thought was a girl on Facebook and had sent them 'personal' photos.
After getting Riley to send the embarrassing photos, the blackmailer then demanded he send $3,500 or they would leak the images to his family, friends and on social media.
His father Darren Basford said the blackmailer continued to 'bombard' his son that day leaving him feeling there was no way out.
'They continued to bombard him and bombard him, and finally they broke him,' he said.
Riley Basford died on March 30 at his father's home in Potsdam, upstate New York, just hours after he was bombarded with online threats as part of a catfishing scam
The 15-year-old, who was known as 'Riser' to his loved ones, had been speaking to an individual he thought was a girl on Facebook and had sent them 'personal' photos
After getting Riley to send the embarrassing photos, the blackmailer then demanded he send $3,500 or they would leak the images to his family, friends and on social media
CATFISHING: A GROWING EPIDEMIC AND WHAT TO DO IF YOU FALL VICTIM?
Catfishing is where someone creates a fake profile on social media to lure in a potential victim.
The culprit will try to gain the trust of victims and trick them into believing they are in some type of relationship.
They will often convince the victim to send intimate photos online that will then be used to extort them for money.
In other cases, the perpetrator may convince the victim to meet them, such as a pedophile or sex offender tricking an underage child.
An epidemic during COVID-19
Catfishing scams have surged in recent years, with another increase during the pandemic as people preyed on lonely, vulnerable people who lost their jobs and were forced to stay home during lockdowns.
FBI data on romance scams - which it describes as when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust in order to manipulate and/or steal from the victim - reveals a 22 percent increase in the last year.
A total of 23,751 incidents were reported in 2020 compared to 19,473 in 2019.
The true picture is far bigger however with SocialCatfish.com estimating that only around 15 percent of catfish incidents are reported.
How to prevent being catfished
Non profit Cybersmile advises people to:
- Stay cautious when speaking to people online
- Never give out money
- Be careful about sending images or explicit messages
- Talk to someone if you notice red flags
- Ask the person questions
- Adjust your privacy settings
What to do if you think you've been catfished
SocialCatfish advises victims to:
- Report the scam to your local police and the FBI's Internet Crime Center
- If you have sent money to the scammer, see if you can get the money back through your bank
- Don’t be too embarrassed to report the scam
'He thought this was the only way out because he didn't want to be embarrassed.'
Within a few hours of receiving the threats, Riley had committed suicide.
Riley's mom said she believes her son's death came in a 'split second of madness' as his young mind was unable to cope with the manipulative situation.
'This came down to really a split second of madness in a young brain that couldn't process the finality of the decision that he was making,' she told WWNY.
Riley's grieving parents said they only discovered their son had been the victim of a blackmail plot when New York State Police examined his cellphone and found the Facebook messages.
Basford said he was 'steaming mad' when they were told about the scam, while Rodee blasted the perpetrator a 'devil.'
'I had come out of that meeting mad. I came out of there steaming mad. I did not want this to happen to another family. I want to get it out there,' said Basford.
Rodee added: 'I want to figure out how this devil was able to prey on my child in such a short time.'
DailyMail.com has reached out to the New York State Police for information on the investigation.
The force issued a warning for New Yorkers, especially parents, last week in the wake of Riley's death, as there have been multiple other cases of teens being targeted by criminals online.
'The New York State Police want to warn New Yorkers, especially parents, following cases of teens being targeted by criminals while online,' Major Reuben A. Oliver said in a statement.
'Investigators say the suspect(s) locate teen victims on social media, friending or following the teens, then gaining their trust.
'When trust is established, investigators say the suspects ask for photos and/or videos of the teen, usually provocative in nature. Once the videos are secured by these predators, they demand payment, sometimes thousands of dollars, or they threaten to release the images on social media.
'At least one case has resulted in a teen victim committing suicide.'
It is not clear if any suspects have been identified in connection with the scam targeting Riley or if any of the other scams identified are connected to his death.
New York State Trooper Jennifer V. Fleishman told Oxygen.com: 'At this point, we can't confirm they are linked.
'It is very early in the investigation. These types of investigations take time. This type of cyber deception has been going on for years.
'They come to the forefront when someone dies as a result. One suicide is too many.'
Basford told Watertown Daily News police were looking into whether the threats came from a person or persons domestically or overseas.
A memorial service was held in Potsdam for Riley Monday evening, with hundreds of local residents rallying around the family as they let balloons off into the sky
Riley's mom said she wouldn't stop trying to protect other children from the same fate as she paid tribute to her 'cool' son who 'made friends everywhere he went.' A memorial pamphlet
He said the family wanted to speak out about Riley's death to warn other parents about the dangers of social media as they fear other young people could also be pushed to suicide.
'I want to get the message out to parents that there is no safe social media,' he said.
'You need to talk to your kids about all social media, know who they're talking to and have the kids know who they're talking to.'
Rodee said she wouldn't stop trying to protect other children from the same fate as she paid tribute to her 'cool' son who 'made friends everywhere he went.'
'The governor will hear my son's name out of my mouth,' she said.
'The president will hear my son's name out of my mouth. I will not go to my grave without honoring Riley every day of my life because he did not want to die.'
A GoFundMe set up to help his family paid tribute to the boy with 'an infectious smile'
The New York State Police is urging parents to talk to their children about going online and set rules about where and when they are surfing or chatting, as well as monitor their children’s social media accounts.
A memorial service was held in Potsdam for Riley Monday evening, with hundreds of local residents rallying around the family as they let balloons off into the sky.
A GoFundMe set up to help his family paid tribute to the boy with 'an infectious smile' who loved to hunt deer, ducks, and geese with his stepbrother and good friends, and enjoyed fishing and playing lacrosse and football.
The page will be used to pay toward memorial services and to set up a scholarship in Riley's name. It had reached almost $40,000 Thursday morning.
Call the toll-free 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)