If you've never heard of the term 'sextortion,' consider yourself and your family lucky. However, the vicious scheme is growing in popularity nationwide, targeting innocent children and teens over the internet and even smartphones.

Flickr User Davide Restivo

The process starts friendly, but after a while, turns into a back-in-forth that can lead a victim down a seemingly never-ending spiral.

After gaining the trust of a vulnerable kid online, perhaps disguising themselves as another curious child, the predator will eventually ask for inappropriate content like lewd pictures. Once the initial material is in hand, the criminal's true colors are presented. They end up using the material as blackmail, threatening to post the pictures publicly or send them to the victim's parents and friends, unless they send more.

"You're dealing with savvy criminals, and they're exploiting kids who are just not mature enough to understand who they're talking to," said Andrew McLees, Special Agent in Charge with Homeland Security Investigations in Newark.

He doesn't have solid numbers on the uptick, but McLees said instances of sextortion have certainly increased in the recent past.

"This happens to people of all ages," he added.

McLees said parents need to be part of the solution; monitor who your children are talking to online, what they're looking at, and the type of photos they're loading onto social media.

"(Parents) have to make sure that their kids aren't entering into a dangerous place while they're even sitting in their living room across the room from them," he said.

Anyone who notices suspicious activity online can call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.