US military families in South Korea received fake alerts to evacuate

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Fake mobile phone alerts and social media messages were popping up on the phones of U.S. military personnel and their families on Thursday, ordering them to evacuate the Korean Peninsula. On Saturday, the U.S. military said it has opened an investigation into the scam messages.

U.S. Forces Korea “did NOT send this message,” officials said in a subsequent Facebook post. (see below)

They advised all Americans living in South Korea with U.S. troops to confirm that any evacuation-related communications are legitimate before acting. They further instructed, “Anyone receiving this false message should not click any links or open any attachments included in the correspondence.”

The phony messages came at a sensitive time, with tensions high after North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3. On Friday, after the White House announced a new round of economic sanctions to further isolate the North, Kim Jong Un — whom President Donald Trump has taken to calling “Rocket Man” — threatened to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

The inflammatory dialogue between Trump and North Korea’s ruler has the whole world on edge, wondering which man will make the first move.

The U.S. military did not indicate who it thought had sent the phony messages, and it is unclear whether any military networks were compromised. An advisory issued by the Army and reported by Stars and Stripes urged people who have received the message to report it to an Army counterintelligence unit, which assess attempts by adversaries and their foreign intelligence services to exploit or access U.S. networks.

Roughly 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed on the peninsula, along with thousands more family members. Evacuations are typically rehearsed by the U.S. military command in Korea in the spring and fall, but any evacuation orders would be announced by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Army officials said.

“If a situation develops quickly and the Department of State requires assistance in the evacuation of noncombatants, the Secretary of State will request that the military assist in the evacuation,” the plan states. “During this stage, the military will assemble the noncombatants and then either relocate or evacuate them to a safer place.”

When evacuating, Americans should carry with them irreplaceable documents, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a flashlight and a blanket or sleeping bag. The service also recommends that families prepare a kit ahead of time that includes a backpack, legal documents, three days of food, bottled water, prescription medications, toiletries and a handheld radio.

“The Republic of Korea has the most heavily defended border in the world,” the plan said. “Though the probability of conflict remains low, the potential of hostilities occurring on the Korean peninsula is greater than in many other parts of the world.”

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