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A stranger offered him $600 on Instagram. Then the death threats began.

Posted at 12:13 PM, Jan 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-08 12:13:55-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A Virginia Beach family wanted to warn the community after their 16-year-old son was threatened by people who contacted him online and targeted him in a bank scheme.

Tyler Shonyo said the people online told him they were going to murder him and his family. They also sent images of a decapitated head and guns, he said.

The 16-year-old Tallwood High School football player was terrified in mid-December when this all unfolded.

He said it started when he got a message from a stranger on Instagram.

“They texted me and said they wanted to pay me to use my picture,” Shonyo said.

He said they wanted to pay to use his high school football picture he posted on social media.

They sent him a $600 electronic check and, regrettably, he said he cashed it into his account.

He said they were kind and friendly towards him, but the next morning everything changed.

“They started to text me the next day, started to threaten my life with violent pictures, a head without a body, and guns pointed at it. They said they’d hunt me down and it didn’t matter if we called the cops because they wouldn’t be able to track them,” said Shonyo.

He said they started calling him repeatedly and texting with more threats.

He said they even sent him his geolocation at Tallwood High School.

They said they knew where he was and that they could find him: “If it takes days, months, or years, we will always be looking for you," they said.

The $600 electronic check they gave him was fraudulent.

They were demanding the money they sent him back.

He said if he followed their orders and sent them $600, he would be out $600 and would have to repay the bank for the fraudulent check.

“The pictures were pretty graphic and if somebody sent me a picture of that with guns, decapitated heads, and a screenshot of my location, I think I would panic pretty heavily,” Tyler’s mom Ginnele Shonyo said.

Ginnele Shonyo said she called the bank and the police.

She said police directed her to the IC3 crime reporting website.

She said she felt frustrated by the lack of response and said she was told there was no crime committed, but this was wrong information.

“We kind of felt a little lost. My son‘s life is being threatened, and I was told to submit an inquiry on a website, which was not very comforting,” she said.

She decided to get in touch with WTKR. The WTKR Investigative Team reached out to Virginia Beach Police.

Police told WTKR there was a crime committed and they were trying to figure out who Ginnele Shonyo spoke to when she originally called.

Police said they see these types of cases regularly. However, this is the first they are aware of where a juvenile was sent a check. They said, “Normally, it involves a scammer posing as a female and has the suspect send them nude pictures. The scammer then threatens to send/post the pictures if money isn't given. If the victim does not send any pictures out then they will send the disturbing pictures, etc.”

They said never cash a check that you do not know where it came from and "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

They said in this case, there was a crime committed and a report could be taken.

They said the report would not be able to be investigated because the scams originate from overseas, which is why they also filled out the IC3 form.

They said online scams are extremely difficult to investigate and generally, the suspects are in a different country/state/city, etc. They said as a local department, VBPD does not have the resources to investigate crimes in other countries.

Virginia Beach Public Schools also issued a statement:

"VBCPS is keenly aware of the threats students face on social media. As such, for our students’ safety and security, neither VBCPS devices nor network will allow access to social media. All too often, social media issues that begin outside of school have ramifications for our staff and students. To that end, VBCPS works to protect, prepare, and educate our students for the digital world, placing a strong focus on digital literacy and citizenship, providing students with the tools to navigate the internet.

Our students know and recognize trusting adults in all our buildings. These adults are always there to help students and families navigate the digital world."

Ginnele Shonyo said she is infuriated that criminals are targeting teens online, preying on the fact that they may be fearful of getting in trouble with their parents or authorities.

Luckily, Tyler Shonyo came to his mother immediately after he deposited the check and when the threats started.

She encourages parents to be warned about this and to talk to their children about what they are doing on the internet.

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