“In many instances, the situation begins when an unknowing victim is
befriended by someone on the Internet, often as part of an online dating
or social media site,” said Daniel Andrews, director of CID’s Computer
Crime Investigative Unit. “The scammer quickly builds a friendship and
trust with the victim, and will begin to ask for or discuss information or
photos that could be hurtful to one’s personal or professional life if
revealed. Because the victim does not realize they are being scammed,
they see the requests or discussion as a normal part of the developing
friendship and are willing to share the information.”

To the victim’s surprise, Andrews said, the scammers then threaten to
release that information if money is not paid.

Another instance of extortion can occur when scammers obtain an
individual’s personal information as part of a data breach. Such breaches,
according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, occurred 591 times in the
first nine months of this year alone, compromising more than 175 million
records.

“Following a data breach, these scammers, these criminals, may try to
extort money from individuals who have a personal, financial, or medical
condition they would not want exposed,” Andrews said.

The FBI report gave one example, called payday loans, deferred-deposit
check loans or cash advance loans, as the most abundant type of
extortion scam reported. The scam takes place when an individual’s
personal information has been revealed to what may appear to be a
legitimate business. The scammer calls the individual notifying them that a
loan in his or her name is delinquent and must be paid in full to avoid
legal consequences. The scammer has accurate information, such as
social security numbers, birth dates, bank account numbers, etc., and
poses as a representative of a legitimate agency collecting debt. The
scammer often refuses to provide details of the alleged loan and may
become abusive when questioned. The FBI report further states that
victims are often threatened with legal action, arrests, and in some cases
physical violence if they refuse to pay.

“Extortion is a touchy subject,” Andrews said, “because it often deals with
intimate or very personal information. Army personnel, however, need to
be upfront and report it, and they should not pay any money if they are
being extorted.”

CID officials said the best thing Soldiers, civilians, and their Family
members can do is to try to prevent it from ever taking place. All are
encouraged to be cautious with their online presence and what
information they give to people they have met online or via email, and be
vigilant when receiving calls from individuals posing as legitimate
businesses.

Whether or not your data has been stolen, officials said, you need to be
informed and wary of spam, phishing emails and promises of protection
by identity theft and credit repair services from future exposure. Officials
further warn individuals to be suspicious of communications regarding
data breaches that do not come from credible sources.

If you receive a phone call or email you believe to be an extortion attempt,
take the following measures:
• If the safety or wellbeing of someone is in imminent danger, contact local
law enforcement immediately.
• Do not reply to the email, click on any links, or open any attachments.
• Report the email to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
• File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.
ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
• Report the email to your email and Internet service provider.
• Move the email to your spam folder.
• If contacted through social media, report the contact to the social media
provider.

“The CID will continue to aggressively investigate and work with our global
partners to prosecute those who threaten our military forces and attempt
to defraud them of their hard-earned money,” Andrews said.

Soldiers, Army civilians, and their Family members, who have been
threatened with extortion, should contact their installation military police or
CID office. Individuals can also email CID at Army.CID.Crime.Tips@mail.
mil, or call 1-844-ARMY-CID (844-276-9243).

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