More than 400 members of the US Armed Forces have paid more than half a million dollars as part of a "sextorsion" scheme being the subject of blackmail orchestrated by inmates in penitentiaries in South Carolina posing as women online, authorities said.
On Wednesday, agents of several military criminal investigation agencies issued arrest warrants and summonses to appear before those suspected of being involved in the operation, constituting the first phase of Operation Surprise Party, announced in a release the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS).
A total of 442 soldiers from the army, navy, air force and marine corps paid more than $ 560,000, according to the statement.
"This despicable targeting of our brave military will never be tolerated," NCIS director Andrew Traver said in a statement. "We will not allow criminal networks to degrade the readiness of our military force."
With the help of civilians, detainees used fake names and personalities online to target troops on online dating sites and media forums to form romantic relationships in order to extort them of money, announced officials.
Once messages and complimentary photos were exchanged, the prisoners would have posed as the father of the girl or a policeman, telling the soldier that the girl was a minor and that the pictures were child pornography, before require payment.
"Having only smartphones and a few touches, South Carolina inmates as well as their outside accomplices have victimized hundreds of people," said Daniel Andrews, an IT crime investigator specializing in computer crimes. in a press release.
Victims have been affected for fear of jeopardizing their careers and the impact of their command, officials said.
Once the members of the military service fired the money, a runner received the transfer and deposited the funds into a JPay account, a payment processing system used by the detainees, the Military Times reported.
The Correctional Services Department of South Carolina has asked to end the inmates' ability to use mobile devices in jail.
More than 250 people associated with the project are currently under investigation and may be subject to prosecution.
It was not known how the extortion ring was getting bigger or how long it was going on.
Other scams involving the army consist of compiling military men's photos and using them to start online romances with unsuspecting women before extorting them for money in threatening to reveal personal information.