Officials from the United States Armed Forces are reporting an increase in an unusual circumstance among military service members: catfishing and blackmailing carried out by prisoners targeting the service members on dating apps and websites. According to reports, many military service members have been enticed by illicit photos of women sent through dating apps in exchange for finances. The twist is the “women” have been traced to men in prison, as unusual as that might seem.
Back in April of 2018, Army officials sent out informational emails to service members about how to spot catfishing scams and avoid them. After the problem did not go away — but instead only increased in frequency — an official investigation titled Operation Surprise Party began. To the “surprise” of the investigators, such catfishing schemes have been prevalent on the phones and mobile devices of service members for years, at least as early as 2015.
According to the findings, if photographs of women in sexually explicit contexts were not sent in exchange for funds, then a blackmailing scheme would be used instead. A service member would receive illicit images of a young woman after conversing with a user on a dating app. Days later, a second anonymous user would contact the service member, state they were the father of the young woman, claim she was not of legal age, and demand money in exchange for not telling the authorities about the alleged child pornography crime.
Investigators were able to track the scheme back to prisoners in particular after noticing that most financial payments given by service members eventually ended up in JPay accounts. JPay is a payment processing service created for and used solely by the incarcerated. The system also plays an integral role in providing South Carolinian inmates tablets through a specialized program that was meant to enable outside entertainment and learning opportunities. Instead, it seems the tablets have been used as the groundwork for the blackmail and catfishing schemes. The South Carolina Department of Corrections has asked for a policy change to revoke the tablets, or better control how they can be used.
Our firm has successfully represented 3 individuals who were investigated for sexual assault who fell victim to these catfishing schemes. The cases have come under the guise of an alleged victim claiming rape against our client when they are underage. The clients have shown up for a date, picked the alleged victim up, realized they were underage, and said they immediately cut the encounter off. Then they received a phone call from someone alleging to be the alleged victim’s dad threatening to take legal action unless a bribe is paid. All three cases died on the vine because we were able to show investigators that this was actually a bribe.
We’ve continued to receive calls regarding blackmailing schemes at least once a month over the last year. Our advice has been consistent and the same across the board: Cease and desist contact with the individual in question. Block the phone number. If it continues, contact us so we can help you carefully navigate this situation. Commanders are duty bound to report crimes of sexual assault, so Servicemembers have to be careful about reporting this to their Command. If it is reported, it has to be done carefully and correctly in order to avoid being investigated for a crime. Potential bribers are aware of this and thus are able to successfully bribe Servicemembers. Don’t let that be you. Be smart. Know your situation. Engage legal counsel.
(You can learn more about this ongoing story by clicking here to view a full article from ArmyTimes.)
LEADING MILITARY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR YOUR DEFENSE CASE
In addition to robbing military service members of finances, the catfishing scheme has also led to legitimate fears of accusations and prosecutions of child pornography crimes. If you are a military service member in any branch of the United States Armed Forces who has been accused of soliciting a minor, Attorney Joseph L. Jordan and his legal team can come to your defense right away. As a former Army enlisted soldier and JAG officer, Attorney Jordan has unique insight and experience into military criminal defense cases and court martial defense that few other military criminal defense lawyers can claim. Put a fighter and a winner in your corner today — contact his law firm by dialing (866) 624-7503 at any time.