While serving prison sentences in a South Carolina jail, several inmates created an elaborate online "sextortion ring", which attacked hundreds of US servicemen and manipulated them to send them money and nude photos, according to federal prosecutors.
The project was discovered after a nearly two-year investigation called "Operation Surprise Party", launched by the US Naval Criminal Investigation Service, with the help of other government partners.
In five separate indictments, prosecutors claimed that male prisoners had used smuggled cell phones to extort members of the army, navy, air force, and army corps. the navy via online dating sites posing as women. The online system has mobilized 442 soldiers on more than $ 560,000, prosecutors said.
"With smart phones and a few touches, South Carolina detainees as well as their outside accomplices have made hundreds of victims," said Daniel Andrews, director of the computer crime investigation unit. of the US Criminal Investigation Command, in a statement.
Prisoners – some of whom are in prison for armed robbery, kidnapping and murder – were assisted by 10 people outside the prison to facilitate smuggling into mobile phones and carry out the project.
Prisoners have developed fake personalities as women aged 18 or 19 on social media forums and online dating sites. They would then try to pursue online dating relationships with US members of the service.
After developing the "relationship" on the websites, the prisoners began texting nude photographs of young women they imitated. In fact, the pictures were simply obtained on the Internet.
Once they texted the photos, the prisoners asked the military to provide them with nude photos or other personal information. When the soldier responded with his nude photos, the prisoners assumed the role of the woman's father, who claimed that his daughter was a teenager. He would ask for money, on behalf of the family, in exchange for not prosecuting criminal charges.
Fearing to lose their military career after having what they supposed to be child pornography, the soldier would transfer money through Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal or Walmart.
People outside the prison would get the funds and deposit them in a correctional services account or establish a prepaid debit card accessible via a smartphone.
"There are over 250 additional people who are under investigation and who are at risk of prosecution," said the Naval Criminal Investigations Department in a statement.
The victims are stationed at bases throughout the country and prosecutors urge all members of the targeted services by sextorsion to contact the military investigation office of their branch.