The Army is warning online daters about a disturbing form of scam: thieves pose as US soldiers stationed overseas, pledge their (fake) love to women, and then bilk them out of thousands. Some scammers even steal the identity of actual servicemen to make their pleas more plausible.
In an unexpectedly poetic memo last month, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) warned Americans to be wary of "scams promising true love, but only end up breaking hearts and bank accounts." The organization released a similar memo last May — but, they say, "CID continues to receive hundreds of reports of various scams involving persons pretending to be U.S. Soldiers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The victims are most often unsuspecting women, 30 to 55 years old, who think they are romantically involved on the internet with an American Soldier, when in fact they are being cyber-robbed by perpetrators thousands of miles away." The scammers are often based in African countries and accessing dating websites at cyber-cafes. Apparently they "will often take the true rank and name of a U.S. Soldier who is honorably serving his country somewhere in the world, marry that up with some photographs of a Soldier off the internet, and then build a false identity to begin prowling the internet for victims." In an especially creepy variation, scammers take the identities of soldiers who have been killed.
Once they meet a willing woman, they may profess love and even propose marriage to her very quickly, then begin asking for money. Some scammers claim they need funds to "help keep the Army internet running," while others say the Army won't let them access their bank accounts. These are lies, but victims who believed them have sent thousands of dollars. One British mom sent $127,000 to a man claiming to be "Sgt. Mark Ray Smith," while another woman sent $72,431 worth of cash and electronics, including 12 Blackberrys and 10 iPods, to man who said he was stationed in Iraq but was actually in Nigeria. Says CID spokesman Chris Grey, "We cannot stress enough that people need to stop sending money to persons they meet on the internet and claim to be in the U.S. military."
A new love who asks for a dozen Blackberrys may seem obviously suspicious to a third party, but Grey points out that "the criminals are preying on the emotions and patriotism of their victims." If you're looking for love online, and you meet someone who's very experienced at making people believe he loves them, you may be willing to overlook what would otherwise be red flags — especially if he also feeds you stories about his service to the country. But hopefully, the Army's warnings will make it harder for scammers to take advantage of women — and of the real soldiers whose identities they steal.
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