FILE - A photo illustration shows hands typing on a computer keyboard in Los Angeles.
FILE - A photo illustration shows hands typing on a computer keyboard in Los Angeles.

PENTAGON - A military investigation unit says prison inmates used online “sextortion” to take more than a half-million dollars from hundreds of American service members.
Agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service executed arrest warrants and served summonses Wednesday on a sextortion ring that had preyed on 442 troops from across the United States since 2015.

Inmates used social media and online dating sites to pose as women and sent nude pictures to service members, according to the NCIS release.  

Prisoners would then assume the role of the female's father or another position of authority. The inmate impersonating the authority figure would claim the woman was a juvenile and demand money in exchange for not pursuing charges through law enforcement channels.

“Military members would then pay, fearful they might lose their careers over possessing what they were being led to believe was child pornography,” the NCIS release said.

The warrants and summonses are the first phase of “Operation Surprise Party,” an investigation launched in 2017 by NCIS and other military branch investigators in coordination with North and South Carolina local agencies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other agencies.

"This despicable targeting of our brave service members will never be tolerated," NCIS Director Andrew Traver said. "We will not allow criminal networks to degrade the readiness of our military force.”

Authorities are investigating at least 250 additional people who could face potential future prosecution as part of the sextortion scandal.