The U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) is warning military personnel to avoid becoming victims of online sextortion scams that use “sexual images (obtained either through enticement or malicious code)” to extort money from unsuspecting victims. “Cyber sextortion” is described as a growing problem among the military services with incidents being reported by “all Military Criminal Investigative Organizations” involving service members stationed in Europe, Asia and the U.S. The AFOSI report, released in February on a restricted basis, was recently posted online on the document-sharing website Scribd.
After reviewing Department of Defense statistics, the AFOSI found that cyber sextortion cases across the military services are primarily “webcam sextortion scams” where they DoD personnel were “enticed to engage in online sexual activities which were secretly recorded” and “money was then extorted from the victims in order to prevent the release of compromising video material.” Though it is “unclear whether perpetrators are specifically targeting US military members”, the report describes DoD members as potentially “vulnerable to blackmail and extortion” because of the expectation that they maintain “a professional appearance” and the strict requirements for maintaining a security clearance.
According to the AFOSI report, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has identified four similar cases of cyber sextortion (two on Guam, one in Japan, and one in Bahrain) involving Navy members between August 2012 and November 2012. The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (USACIDC) also reported three cases involving soldiers located in South Korea, Germany, and Texas. The AFOSI itself has identified multiple cases involving U.S. Air Force members in Japan, South Korea, Alaska, Portugal and Guam.
Many of the incidents reportedly originated from a criminal sextortion ring based in the Philippines. In a public affairs notice posted earlier this month on the Air Force website, a spokesperson for the AFOSI said that the ring involved “21 employees of a Philippines-based web portal solutions company” who reportedly “targeted hundreds of U.S. Army and Navy members for a period of more than a year”.
To protect against potential sextortion scams, the AFOSI recommends protecting personal information and limiting what information is divulged on social networking sites. The report also recommends not responding to “unsolicited e-mails or chat requests”, particularly when the communication involves a “request to exchange provocative pictures or videos”.