Sextortion scams come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the victims are teens, sometimes women. Sometimes the perpetrators are hackers, other times its pedophiles. And then you have a couple hundred South Carolina prison inmates targeting over 400 active military personnel and fleecing them of half a million dollars.
So how did the scam work?
JPay Me or You Go to Jail
Most sextortion scams are pretty similar -- they involve one party tricking the other into sending nude photos and/or leveraging those photos into either money or more photos. This scam was a little more complicated, according to Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) prosecutors. Prison inmates used JPay tablets behind bars to pose as women on dating applications online. "Once making contact on the dating application, the conversations are transferred to phone-to-phone text messaging," according the arrest warrants in the case. "After several hours to several days of texting, the subject will either send unsolicited nude images of a female to the victim and/or agree to trade sexually explicit images with the victim."
And that's when the cops or "dad" would get involved. Once the target of the scam sent their own photos, they'd get a message from another number claiming to be law enforcement or the girl's parent. "The 'father' then notifies the victim that the female is under the age of 18," the warrant stated and pressures the victim to send hush money or to pay for counseling treatment. Those funds are then quickly funneled through a "money mule" into the inmates' JPay accounts.
According to an NCIS press release, more than 250 individuals are currently being investigated for their roles in the scam, which "cost 442 service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps from across the United States more than $560,000 in financial loss." Operation Surprise Party is still ongoing, with cooperation from the South Carolina Department of Corrections which has petitioned to revoke the prisoners' tablet privileges.
"This despicable targeting of our brave service members will never be tolerated," said Andrew Traver, NCIS director. "We were able to complete this first phase because of the excellent work by all our law enforcement partners ... This operation will continue until we break the back of these criminal networks."
They might want to train soldiers on not exposing themselves via text message as well.