Inmates in South Carolina have spent their time pretending to be women and scrolling through social media and dating sites until a few key details catch their eye.
Cut hair. Proximity of the military bases. Maybe a photo or two in uniform.
Then, the messages intended to trap and blackmail the members of the service began in the penitentiaries of South Carolina, developed in a simple and terrifying scheme, announced the authorities.
After the exchange of romantic messages and crazy pictures, the prisoners presented themselves under the fictitious girl's father, telling the victims that she was a minor and that the images were child pornography.
Paying money to make it disappear, asked the detainees, or the police would be notified.
A total of 442 soldiers from across the country have fallen prey and paid more than $ 560,000 under the "sextorsion" program, authorities said Wednesday after five arrests and 15 indictments following repression of a complex network.
"With only smartphones and a few keystrokes, South Carolina detainees and their outside accomplices have claimed hundreds of lives," said Daniel Andrews, an IT crime investigator in a statement. .
The Operation Surprise Party was launched in January 2017 by the Navy's Crime Investigation Service, officials said, later joined by army officers, the police, and the police. 39, air force, states and federal government. The announcement marked the first phase of the operation, although it is unclear when the investigation began and what alerted the authorities to this practice.
More than 250 other people are under investigation and could be prosecuted, said Jeff Houston, a spokesman for NCIS.
Victims have been paid for fear that their false statements will jeopardize their careers, officials said. Sometimes the masters masquerade as police officers. It is unclear how the extortion network became so complex nor how detainees were recruited to participate in the operation.
The NCIS could not say why the troops were specifically targeted. It is possible that crooks have enjoyed feelings of integrity and professionalism to shame the military. And the troops are subject to civil and military laws, which could suggest that a crime would be even more catastrophic personally and professionally.
Online dating scams have been frustrating military authorities for years because they disrupt military tasks and erode resources.
In a common scheme, fraudsters steal online photos of men in good shape and post them on dating sites. Women in search of romantic relationships are taken care of by invented stories of widowed or single parents deployed in combat and in need of money, said Christopher Gray, spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigations Command. earthen.
Danger war stories with a touch of romance helped sell the scam. And the unpredictability and long duration of the deployments provided a ready-made excuse for the scammers to never meet or talk on the phone, Gray told the Washington Post on Wednesday.
In recent years, angry calls have flooded the offices of military investigators and other commands. The women wanted information on the troops who took money and disappeared. But the troops were unintentionally used, Gray said.
Calls always come, says Gray. But more and more, suspicious targets are now calling to check if a love story of war is too good to be true.
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