NORTH CAROLINA -- Authorities say they've broken up an elaborate, multi-state 'sextortion' ring run by prison inmates targeting U.S. military men.

  • Prisoners in North and South Carolina targed U.S. service men in an elaborate 'sextortion' ring.
  • They pretended to be young women in online dating profiles.
  • The prisoners then extorted money from the service members by blackmailing them. 

State and federal officials say North Carolina and South Carolina  prisoners used contraband cell phones to create online dating profiles.

They then posed as young women, sending nude photos, and convincing service members to send compromising photos of themselves.

Inmates would then extort money by acting as if the fathers of the young women would take charge of their profiles and claim that their “daughters” were juveniles. Next, they would pretend to be a police officer or another authority figure, extorting money in exchange for not turning them over to law enforcement. Service members would agree and pay the money, and the military says they were "fearful they might lose their careers over possessing what they were being led to believe was child pornography."  

The two-year investigation alleges that 15 people were involved in the plot which targeted more than 440 service members and resulted in a $560,000 financial loss.

"This despicable targeting of our brave service members will never be tolerated," said Director Andrew Traver of Naval Criminal Investigative Service. "We will not allow criminal networks to degrade the readiness of our military force. We were able to complete this first phase because of the excellent work by all our law enforcement partners, who are dedicated to helping protect our military service members. This operation will continue until we break the back of these criminal networks."

Outside of the fifteen involved, more than 250 others are being investigated and face future prosecution.