Inmates swindle service members in 'sextortion' scheme

Kaylah Jackson
November 29, 2018 - 10:41 am

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Robert Alejandre)

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Hundreds of service members were swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in an online "sextortion" scheme by imates, according to military investigators.

Operation Surprise Party, an investigative cohort, is examining how several inmates in South Carolina targeted service members online in a sexting extortion ring.

According to a report, the inmates used social media, online dating websites and contraband cellphones to pose as women. The inmates exchanged photos to garner romantic relationships with service members.  After receiving responses from the service members, the inmates would switch roles, posing as a parent or police officer and claim the woman in the photo was underage. Inmates then demanded the service member send money in exchange for not pressing child pornography charges.

The “sextortion” ring cost over 400 service members from all branches of the Armed Forces more than $560,000. Authorities say more than 250 individuals are being investigated and face future prosecution.

South Carolina Department of Corrections director Bryan Sterling told CBS New reporter Jim Krasula, “They’re physically incarcerated. Virtually, they’re out there among us. They’re on the internet. They’re able to continue their schemes from behind bars.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, thus far, five inmates were indicted on charges including wire fraud and extortion.

"With nothing more than smartphones and a few keystrokes, South Carolina inmates along with outside accomplices victimized hundreds of people," said Daniel Andrews, Director of the Computer Crime Investigative Unit of the U.S. 

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigation Command and Air Force Office of Special Investigations, partnered together for Operation Surprise Party and started the investigation of the extortion scheme in 2017.

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