News: Agents warn Marines of rising extortion cases
Story by Lance Cpl. David Hersey
CAMP FOSTER, Japan - A Marine is checking his favorite social media profile when a friend request pops up. The picture is of a beautiful young woman around his age. Seeing no harm, the Marine accepts the request, and they begin a conversation. When she invites him to video chat, he eagerly accepts.
This scene is all too familiar and can easily take a wrong turn. While disguised as just two people getting to know one another, it can be an extortionist’s trap.
To ensnare the Marine in the trap, the extortionist convinces him to expose himself to the camera and begins recording the footage without the Marine’s knowledge. Once the video is captured, the extortionist sends a copy to the Marine with a threat: follow this link and subscribe to the website, or the video will be posted to the internet and sent to the Marine’s friends and family, and perhaps his chain of command. The extortionist then tries to force the Marine to pay ransom via a pre-established account or PayPal site.
Internet extortion is becoming an increasingly common problem in the Marine Corps and worldwide, as highlighted by recent news stories on CNN and other major outlets, according to James Herald, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on Okinawa.
“There have been five confirmed cases of extortion reported to NCIS for Marine Corps Installations Pacific since Jan. 1,” said Herald. “This does not mean only five cases have occurred; there is a possibility of more than just five cases because the Marines are most likely too ashamed to admit it.”
Extortion victims may not report incidents because their fear of humiliation and ridicule by peers or superiors may override their need for help, according to Lt. Cmdr. Aaron C. Carlton, the chaplain for Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC.
“The Marine Corps is a group in which honor plays an important role in everything Marines do,” said Carlton. “Marines are awarded for their accomplishment and do everything possible to avoid anything that could stain their honor.”
Marines need to recognize there is a bigger danger than personal embarrassment and inform their leaders when they need assistance, according to Carlton.
“What they must realize is there is nothing shameful about admitting they need help,” said Carlton. “Sometimes, the only way to fix something like this is by asking for help.”
The military lifestyle is highly stressful and can create challenges, such as relationship issues. Intimacy is something all humans naturally desire and can cause a Marine to overlook signs of an extortionist when away from loved ones, according to Carlton.
“Having a relationship is one of our greatest needs as people, and in the military lifestyle, there can be issues with fulfilling that need,” said Carlton.
Any Marine that becomes a victim of extortion must report it to their chain of command. The legal authorities cannot stop the ones who commit these acts without the proper information, according to Herald.
Victims need to save any messages sent by extortionists and provide this evidence to the authorities during their report.
Marines are urged to use caution when associating with people they do not know on the internet. With the advancement of modern technology, extortionists continue to find new methods to acquire what they desire from victims.
“We need to get the message out to all the Marines about the dangers lurking on the internet, just waiting to take advantage of them,” said Herald. “The more the Marines know about the risks, the less likely they are to be trapped by extortionists.”