Prisoners across the state of South Carolina have been participating in a scheme to extort money out of U.S. soldiers after sending them explicit photos of women and then demanding money for the images.
According to the BBC, U.S. Army investigators have issued a warrant to search through email accounts that are believed to have been used to transfer money in the scheme. “Countless prisoners” are thought to have gotten involved in the blackmailing plan. Officials inside the prison have warned that cell phones are dangerous in the hands of convicts.
The warrant states that prisoners were communicating with the U.S. servicemen via dating apps, making particular use of dating site PlentyOfFish.com in their scheme. After a short amount of texting with the soldier, the convict would send an unsolicited image of a naked woman, according to a detective with the US Army Criminal Investigation Command.
Prisoners would then follow that up with another message, this time supposedly from the girl’s angry father, demanding payment in order to serve as motivation for not going to the police.
A search warrant filed in Charleston accuses prisoners in South Carolina of posing as underage girls on dating apps to catfish and extort soldiers in the U.S. Army. Investigators want access to a Gmail account.
— The Sacramento Bee (@sacbee_news) October 18, 2018
“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,” the warrant states. “The ‘father’ then notifies the victim that the female is under the age of 18,” it continues. The father will typically state that he will leave law enforcement out of the equation if the victim agrees to pay for various things like cell phone replacement, counseling, hospital treatments, etc.”
According to the warrant, which was issued on October 3, many of the soldiers pay the money simply out of fear that they could lose their military career if the police are involved. This is heightened by the fact that they are of the understanding that they are in possession of what is legally considered to be child pornography if the girl really is under 18 years of age.
So far, the investigation has uncovered a woman on the outside who is involved in the scheme, acting as the money mule. She receives the payments from victims, and then funnels them into the prisoner’s bank account. So far, no criminal charges have been filed.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections has identified contraband cell phones inside prison cells as contributing to the “sextortion,” and has since petitioned for the ability to jam all cellular communications within state prisons.
The US Army Criminal Investigation Command has not commented on the ongoing investigation, but soldiers have been warned about the scheme and advised never to give in to the demands.