The dangers of social media
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- A Marine is using social media when a female he does not recognize sends him a friend request. He enjoys meeting new people, so he accepts her request. They begin to chat and soon decide to meet. Before they meet, she tells the Marine he must contact, a man who knows the woman. The man tells him he must pay money or the Marine and his family and friends will be in danger.
Common tactics of social media extortionists include relating to a service member’s interests and posting pictures of attractive females to lure them into chats. What may seem like a normal person wanting to video chat or meet with a Marine, can actually be an extortionist trying to deceive him for his money or information.
Extortion became a noticeable issue for Naval Criminal Investigative Service Resident Agency, Okinawa, Japan, in 2012. Since then, cases have become five times more frequent, with more than 25 investigations and reports being taken, and have led to monetary losses of nearly $20,000, according to Special Agent Doug Simmons, a criminal investigator with NCISRA, Okinawa.
“The Marine Corps is a strong mannered, strong willed, cultured community, so they are more reluctant to report that they have been a victim of a crime,” said Simmons.
Embarrassment about their information being made public could be a reason why only some Marines report the incidents, according to Staff Sgt. Christopher I. Cureton.
“People are not coming forward because they do not want their information (made public),” said Cureton, the cyber security chief for Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler. “But we offer preventative measures to protect your information. Privacy of Marines is our main purpose.”
Extortionists are able to search for the common words “Marine,” “United States Marine,” “USMC” and find anyone on social media sites with low privacy settings whose profile page includes those words. They then add the Marine, who might confirm them as a friend based on mutual friends or the photos posted to the profile.
“Just because they have mutual friends with someone does not make them real,” said Simmons. “Quiz them. Ask questions such as, ‘where did we meet?’ If they say they are military ask, ‘What platoon were we in? Where were we trained?’”
Being on Okinawa makes the extortionist threat even more realistic as it is easy for criminals to portray themselves as Okinawa residents before demanding money be sent to the Philippines or another country around the Asia-Pacific, according to Simmons.
“When threats are being made against Marines, or their family and friends, it is recommended that service members keep and archive any electronic evidence, paper documentation, conversations and emails between you and the suspect.”
“I protect not only myself, but other people on social media,” said Lance Cpl. Kel V. Blaze, combat camera, G-3/5, operations and training, MCIPAC-MCB Butler. “I report the fake accounts or show the accounts to the public and say, ‘Hey, watch out for this profile because they are not real.’”
The easiest and safest way to protect yourself is to only add people you actually know and speak to in person, according to Simmons.
“If you want to meet someone, go out in town to meet them and take a buddy. Adding people you do not know as a friend could raise the potential of being extorted,” said Simmons. “The trend is to use attractive female Facebook profiles from all walks of life and all ethnicities (to appeal to multiple targets). Many times they portray a model asking to be a Marine’s friend, so the Marine is highly inclined to accept.”
If you notice strange incidents like this or witness any other crimes occurring, it is highly encouraged to submit an anonymous tip to the NCIS Okinawa Facebook page, www.facebook.com/NCISOkinawa. Information leading to a felony arrest could result in a reward of up to $1,000. If you are a victim of extortion, you should notify local authorities, your chain of command, and NCISRA.