From the Adjutant General:

Responsible Use of Social Networking Sites and other Internet-based Technologies


1. The Internet is a valuable tool for commanders and service members to communicate their units’ activities to the general public, family members and friends. Research shows journalism moving away from television, newspapers and radio, particularly among younger audiences who use the Internet as their primary source for acquiring and sharing information.

2. It is important that all service members realize the broad reach – both positive and negative – that Internet-based forms of communication have on our organization and the importance of maintaining a presence in these emerging domains. No longer is Public Affairs solely responsible for communicating the organization’s message. Now, all service members are communicators who must be entrusted to provide information about topics within their areas of expertise.

3. While useful as part of the West Virginia National Guard’s overall communications strategy, it is important to note that Internet technologies, particularly social media networking sites, provide opportunities for adversarial groups to glean both operational and personal information to target our organization and its members. As such, all personnel have a responsibility to ensure that no information that might place West Virginia National Guard operations or service members in jeopardy, or otherwise be of use to potential adversaries, be posted to public Web sites.

4. This memorandum provides updated guidance to all West Virginia National Guard members on the proper use of Internet-based technologies, including social media sites. It should be used in conjunction with my memorandum of 13 May 2010, SUBJ: External Social Networking Sites, and appropriate Operations Security (OPSEC) and Information Assurance (IA) regulations.

5. My point of contact for questions regarding responsible use of the Internet is Lt. Col. Melissa, State Public Affairs Officer. She can be reached at 304-561-6762 or at melissa.shade@us.af.mil .

 JAMES A. HOYER
 Major General, WVARNG
 The Adjutant General

Social Media OPSEC

ONLINE SCAMS:

Recent years have been marked by an increase in online scams involving cybercriminals looking to exploit the public’s confidence in the U.S. Armed Services. In September 2011, the Army Times highlighted the extent of the problem when it published an article claiming the U.S. Army had seen an explosion of cases in which internet scammers adopt identities of Soldiers at all levels. The United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (USACIDC) has documented hundreds of instances involving the online impersonation of Army personnel, including over 100 in which perpetrators assumed the identities of GOs and high-ranking Army officials. In addition, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force are also experiencing like situations in which their members have been subjected to online impersonation. Although these scams can take a variety of shapes, the following appear to be most prevalent types of online impersonation schemes involving U.S. service members:

These schemes seek to defraud potential victims by pretending to be Service Members seeking romance or who are in need of emotional companionship. In such scams, cybercriminals often derive information for their fictionalized military characters from official military websites and social networking websites where military Families post information about their loved ones.3 They gather enough detailed personal information (including pictures) to lure unsuspecting victims (most often women)4 into sending money to help them with transportation costs, marriage processing expenses, medical fees, communication fees (laptops and satellite telephones)5 or other concocted stories tailored to appeal to the victim’s emotions. Perpetrators in these cases typically promise that they will repay the victim when they finally meet; however, once the victim stops sending the money, the scammer is never heard from again.

These schemes are most frequently carried out on eBay, Yahoo! Autos, or Craigslist, and are designed to lure potential victims into the scam by offering online goods well below their market price. Most of such scams involve vehicle sales, house rentals, or like items. A scammer advertises a vehicle for sale at a price that is almost too good to be true. He/she describes the vehicle in broad terms, such as: “It has a clean title, very well maintained, always garage kept, no rust, excellent condition, runs and sounds 100% perfect with no leaks or noises."6 The potential victim answers the ad and is soon contacted by the scammer, claiming to be a service member with a U.S. military unit7 that is being deployed abroad. The scammer uses his “deployment” to explain the undervalued sales price of the vehicle and the fact that the potential victim will be unable to test drive it. Often, the scammer insists that the transaction take place quickly and requests that the potential victim wire the money (usually via Western Union and MoneyGram) to the scammer.

These schemes seek to defraud potential victims by promising big profits in exchange for help in moving large sums of money (or gold, or oil, or some other commodity or contraband). Claiming to be high-ranking or well-placed government/military officials, business/military people or the surviving spouses of former government leaders, the perpetrators offer to transfer significant amounts of money into the victim’s bank account in exchange for a small fee. Some utilize photographs and biographical information of high-profile American military officials obtained from the internet.

Why the Military?

Online scammers appear to use the military aspect to twist what is an otherwise traditional internet fraud scheme into one that has more credibility, plausibility, and emotional appeal. By pretending to be Service Members, cybercriminals seek to provide potential victims with a sense of trust and loyalty. The military nexus to the story also provides the perpetrators with a “rational explanation” about various aspects of the transaction or interaction that generally would make victims suspicious (insistence on quick sale, wire transfers, not being able to see or test drive the car, need to pay some foreign country official a fee, etc.). Finally, through an amalgamation of sympathy, romance, and patriotism, the perpetrators seek to prey on potential victims’ emotions by targeting those who are sympathetic to the sacrifices service members have been asked to make in recent years (i.e., repeated deployments, etc.).