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Sextortion: Don’t become victims

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Diana Cossaboom, U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs functional area manager, texts with a friend at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 12, 2017. Texts are one form of communication perpetrators use to extort money from Airmen who have been a victim of sextortion. In the past three years, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations has recorded around 40 victims of this scam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Amanda Dick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Diana Cossaboom, U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs functional area manager, texts with a friend at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 12, 2017. Texts are one form of communication perpetrators use to extort money from Airmen who have been a victim of sextortion. In the past three years, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations has recorded around 40 victims of this scam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Amanda Dick)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

Sextortion. Lately, this word seems to keep popping up in emails and articles -- Military Times recently reported an increase in Sextortion among military members.

But, what is it, and how does it impact Airmen?

“Sextortion is the use of threats and coercion to obtain money or other favors from an individual after they have engaged in conversation or other forms of conduct that is sexual in nature with someone via the internet,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Glosson, 9th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Central Command first sergeant.

The perpetrator usually records these activities and threatens the member with exposure, either publically or in the case of a military member to the victim’s chain of command, unless a specific amount of money is paid.

Why is this scam a growing concern in the military? The Air Force Office of Special Investigations explains several reasons in their sextortion pamphlet for why service members make “attractive targets.”

  • Many of the victims are junior enlisted members who are targeted because they are away from home and maintain a strong social media presence.
  • Military members have a steady income, so they are more appealing based on their supposed financial stability.
  • Military members are held to higher standards of conduct making them more susceptible to being outed and embarrassed.
  • Military members hold security clearances, and their knowledge of tactics, training and other items of interest can be used as leverage for extortion.

The AFOSI has recorded around 40 victims of sextortion over the last three years that has amounted to about $14,000 in losses, according to Scott Mills, AFOSI Detachment 223 commander from Tyndall AFB, Florida.

How can Airmen avoid being a victim of sextortion?

“Do not engage in anything sexual over the internet -- period,” Glosson warned. “Do not talk about sex or provide nude photos to anyone you don’t know or haven’t met. I also caution Airmen not to provide anything to anyone whether you know them or not that you wouldn’t want your parents to see -- just a good rule of thumb.”

Furthermore, the AFOSI offers these tips for military members to avoid victimization:

  • Turn off any electronic devices and/or web cameras when not being used
  • Don’t open attachments from those you don’t know
  • Don’t advertise your military or U.S. government affiliation.
  • Change social media privacy settings and accounts to limit information for those who don’t know you.
  • “Trust your instincts” -- if you are suspicious of the person you are talking to, end communication with them.

According to the AFOSI, there are several red flags associated with sextortion such as:

  • Unknown people who seem to have mutual friends or many U.S. military friends and approach you online or friend you on a social media platform.
  • People who urge you to participate in sexually explicit video chat or send sexually explicit images instantly after talking starts.
  • If a video call starts with the other person undressed or already involved in a sexual act.
  • If you receive any form of communication from law enforcement notifying you of being involved in suspected criminal activity.

What do Airmen do if they find themselves in a sextortion scandal?

“Immediately report it to law enforcement,” Glosson said. “I know it can be very embarrassing, but it is important to get the info to the proper authorities to catch and stop those who are doing this.”

Glosson said he’s dealt with several cases as a first sergeant. In one such case, an Airman was on a dating website when the perpetrator, who claimed he or she was of legal age, made contact with the Airman.

The conversations started friendly but later turned sexual in nature as initiated by the perpetrator.

Soon after photos were swapped, the Airman received threatening phone calls, text messages and emails from the perpetrators “parent” -- even going so far as to threaten the Airman with going to the FBI or member’s chain of command if the demands weren’t met.

“Luckily, this person came to me, and I was able to get them to law enforcement and protect them,” Glosson added.

The AFOSI also suggests stopping all communication with the perpetrator once demands have been made. Next, Airmen should get in touch with their leadership and local AFOSI office. Lastly, save all messages and communication with the perpetrator. Under no circumstances should Airmen pay the perpetrator.

Are there any repercussions to an Airman’s career associated with this scam?

Only if Airmen don’t report the incident and give in to the perpetrator’s demands as they have now participated knowingly in illegal activities, according to Glosson.

The first sergeant also said this scam doesn’t just hurt Airmen but their families as well, especially as the perpetrators don’t care who they hurt.

“It is important to remember to report this as soon as it happens to you,” Glosson explained. “Do not give in to their demands. Protect yourself and the U.S. Air Force. We are all human and things happen, but do not make it worse by trying to hide it.”

Editor’s note: Information from this article was taken from the AFOSI Cybersecurity: Sextortion pamphlet. The 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office contributed to this article.