By Sean KimmonsMay 25, 2017
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Army News Service) -- Social media has countless benefits for Soldiers, with finding romance being one of them. But the person on the other end of that so-called love connection may be a scammer.
With ongoing cases of "sextortion" occurring across the Army -- a cybercrime where someone threatens to expose a sexual image in order to gain money or something else from a victim -- Army investigators have issued a new warning to Soldiers so they don't fall prey to the crime.
"They know that service members often have security clearances and are held to a higher standard of conduct, so that's why they're vulnerable targets," said Chris Grey, spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command, or CID.
Typically, a perpetrator quickly elicits a video chat or exchanges sexually explicit images with a victim. A criminal may also try to gain the trust of a victim by pretending to share a mutual friend found on their open social media account.
"Many times, it's a person who within just a couple of chats will immediately be in the state of undress or engaging in some type of sexual act and try to encourage the victim to do the same," Grey said Wednesday. "It's not like this happens months later; it's pretty quick."
Once the criminal has compromising images of a victim, they try to blackmail the victim with threats of posting the images online or showing them to the victim's supervisors, friends or family members. Criminals have also been known to pose as law enforcement officials, attempting to get the victim to pay a fine for exposing themselves online.
"If the victim pays, then they're very likely to come back for more money," Grey said, adding that Soldiers could find themselves in a never-ending cycle of demands.
While some Soldiers have handed over thousands of dollars of "hush money" in the scam, others have looked to ending their lives as a way to escape from it. There have been documented cases of Soldiers who committed suicide or attempted suicide because of it, Grey said.
Besides money, criminals may also target Soldiers to gain sensitive military information.
"They have been targeted, like other scams, because the perpetrators know that they have money and have a career and may have military information and access to military installations," Grey said.
The scam is not just solely focused on the Army, but it also targets service members in the other branches, as well as the entire civilian population.
"It's a widespread scam," Grey said, "but we want to make sure the force is ready and this helps protect the force by getting the word out so our Army community doesn't become victims."
DON'T BE A VICTIM
In the Army, the crime has mainly targeted young males, although there have been reports of female victims, investigators say.
If a Soldier or an Army civilian employee is targeted, they should not send any money to the perpetrator. Instead, they should report the crime to the Army CID's Computer Crime Investigative Unit at email@example.com or 571-305-4478.
Family members and others not associated with the military can report the crime to their local police department, to Department of Homeland Security investigators at Assistance.Victim@ice.dhs.gov, or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
To help prevent the crime, the Army CID uses social media and press releases to get the word out, while agents often give sextortion briefings across the service. The Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, also educates Soldiers about the crime as part of their regular training.
The goal of these campaigns, Grey said, is to encourage Soldiers to remain vigilant when online.
"There are perpetrators trolling the internet just like there are people on the back alleys of streets," he said. "So [Soldiers] have to be extremely careful."
(Follow Sean Kimmons on Twitter: @KimmonsARNEWS)