The young service member has never been the quintessence of fiscal responsibility. Exorbitant purchases or financial commitments on an E-1 or E-2 salary often leaves bank accounts, much like the areas of the brain coordinating these decisions, shockingly vacant.
But every so often, this eccentric group of money-blowing babes in the woods manages to surprise even itself by tunneling even farther into the darkest depths of the financial pit of misery.
That was the case this week when Army officials and South Carolina law enforcement revealed that young soldiers have allegedly been getting duped into funneling cash to prison inmates following text message exchanges featuring nude photos of women the soldiers believed they were conversing with, according to a U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command warrant obtained by the BBC.
Remember, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
The Army issued guidance for soldiers on how to avoid such scams as recently as April, but with the memo evidently falling on deaf ears, the service launched an investigation into the matter, known as “Operation Surprise Party."
“Surprise” discovered the alleged “sextortion” scheme began in 2015, with prisoners posing on dating applications — primarily one called PlentyofFish — as women in the same age bracket as the targeted soldier.
“Once making contact on the dating application, the conversations are transferred to phone-to-phone text messaging,” the warrant says. “After several hours to several days of texting, the subject will either send unsolicited nude images of a female to the victim and/or agree to trade sexually explicit images with the victim.”
But shortly after swapping nude photos with Andy Dufresne, “Red” and “the sisters,” the unsuspecting soldier would allegedly receive a text from another phone number belonging to a completely different prisoner who would then pose as the fictional girl’s father.
“The ‘father’ then notifies the victim that the female is under the age of 18," the warrant states. "The father will typically state that he will leave law enforcement out of the equation if the victim agrees to pay for various things like cell phone replacement, counseling, hospital treatments, etc.”
Targeted service members often cave in to the pressure, the report said, forking over the cash out of fear of repercussions from their command as a panic sets in that they’ve unknowingly been soliciting child pornography.
Once the soldiers wire the cash, a runner, who authorities have since identified as the operation’s “money mule,” receives the transfer and deposits the funds into a JPay account, a payment processing system used by inmates.
JPay also oversees distribution of South Carolina’s costly prison tablet services, the report said, so the inmates can directly apply the “sextorted” money to funding the online scheme from inside the prison’s walls.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections has petitioned to end inmates' ability to use mobile communication devices inside prisons, BBC reported, a policy change that gained momentum in April after prisoners used contraband cell phones to coordinate a riot that left seven inmates dead.
“Operation Surprise Party" has not yet resulted in the filing of any criminal charges, the report said.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.