US Army Sees Near Threefold Uptick in ‘Sextortion’ Cases as Experts Highlight Dangers of Loneliness

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines sextortion as a crime in which an individual threatens to not distribute someone’s private and/or sensitive material in exchange for sexual favors or money. This material includes nude images and sexual videos retrieved without the victim’s knowledge or consent.
There has been a nearly threefold increase in ‘sextortion’ or ‘revenge porn’ reports filed by US Army service personnel and their family members in the past three years, according to data provided to Military.com by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
Per Army CID statistics, the division received 56 reports of sextortion in 2019, prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. That number ballooned to 147 sextortion cases in 2020 and another 132 reports of sextortion in 2021.
Between 2019 and 2022, victims of sextortion collectively lost some $428,000, per the Army CID.
The rapid climb in reports appears to show a proliferation of low-effort cyber crimes targeting US military-affiliated individuals. The data could also reflect an improvement in the digital literacy of online users looking out for potential scams.

“CID continues to aggressively take actions to prevent, investigate, and educate against these types of scams targeting our service members and families,” Edward LaBarge, assistant director of the Army CID’s Cyber Directorate, told Military.com.

As of this article’s publication, at least 61 sextortion reports have been logged for 2022, which remains on track with recent years.
“This type of scam is an easy one to execute and a favorite amongst scammers,” LaBarge said.
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Earlier this month, US-based security firm Zscaler’s ThreatLabz team revealed that there has been a resurgence in “malicious voicemail-notification-themed emails” targeting US military and software security personnel in an attempt to steal their Windows Office 365 and Outlook account credentials.
Those who fall for such attacks are likely to have other accounts compromised.
“As an extra precaution, users should not open attachments in emails sent from untrusted or unknown sources,” ThreatLabz recommends. “As a best practice, in general, users should verify the URL in the address bar of the browser before entering any credentials.”
Experts believe that the increase in online blackmail cases can be explained by criminals’ attempts to play on natural human emotions and feelings exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as loneliness and despair.
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Ursula Palmer, executive director of the Military & Veteran Programs at the Cybercrime Support Network, told Military.com that folks from all walks of life were “stuck at home for a year” and turned to dating websites or apps to find attention and affection.
“And then it happens that the person you were talking to wasn't who they said they were," Palmer said. "They were just trying to get those images or videos so that they could extort you as a target."
Palmer noted that US military personnel are prime targets in a variety of scams due to a “steady paycheck or steady benefits,” like Basic Housing Allowance or disability checks.
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