CID ADVISES VIGILANCE AGAINST INTERNET ‘ROMANCE SCAMS’
By U.S. Army CID Public Affairs Office January 18, 2017
WASHINGTON — In today’s digital age, when most individuals communicate regularly with family and friends over social media platforms, one should always be awarethat online predators and scammers are lurking on those same platforms, actively stalking their next unsuspecting victims.
Now that the holidays are over and Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, Special Agents with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, also known as CID, are anticipating a different type of holiday frenzy — an increase in “romance scam” reports.
The scam involves an online scammer tricking a victim into believing he or she is “in a relationship” with an American Soldier and then hustling the victim out of his or her money.
“These perpetrators are definitely not American Soldiers, but they are quite familiar with American culture,” said Chris Grey, Army CID spokesperson. “The criminals, often from other countries, most notably from West African countries, are pretending to be U.S. Soldiers routinely serving in a combat zone or other overseas location.
According to Grey, perpetrators take on the online persona of a U.S. Soldier, marry the persona with photographs of a Soldier off the Internet, and then begin prowling the web for victims. The Soldier’s rank and other details are often included in an effort to lend credence to the scammer’s story.
The Army reports that several senior officers and enlisted Soldiers throughout the Army have also had their identities stolen and used in these scams.
To date, Army CID has received no reports indicating a Soldier has been criminally involved or suffered financial loss as a result of these attacks. But victims of these scams have reported losing thousands of dollars.
One victim went so far as to refinance her house to help out her new online beau. In the end, she lost more than $70,000.
According to romancescam.org, the scammers set up fake social media accounts and dating site profiles with pictures suggesting that they are from the U.S. The scammers portray themselves as caring and loving individuals looking for a soul mate.
Once the victim is on the hook, the scammer attempts to persuade the victim to provide financial support to deal with a crisis or on some other pretext.
Scammers will communicate carefully worded romantic requests for money to purchase computers, international telephones, or pay transportation fees — always to be used by the fictitious “deployed Soldier” so the relationship can continue.
They ask the victim to send money, often thousands of dollars at a time, to a third party address.
Grey said he gets calls every week from victims of these kinds of scams.
“It is very troubling to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met,” Grey said. “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.”
Along with the romance-type scams, CID has also received complaints from citizens worldwide that they have been the victims of other types of scams in which a cyber-crook impersonates a U.S. service member.
One version usually involves the sale of a vehicle; where the service member claims to be moving overseas and has to quickly sell their vehicle because they are being sent to another duty station.
After sending bogus information regarding the vehicle, the seller requests the buyer do a wire transfer to a third party to complete the purchase. In reality, the entire exchange is a ruse for the crook to get the wire transfer and leave the buyer high and dry, with no vehicle.
“Another critical issue is we don’t want victims walking away and thinking that a U.S. Soldier has ripped them off when in fact that Soldier is honorably serving his or her country and often not even aware that his pictures or identity have been stolen,” Grey said.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
— DON’T EVER SEND MONEY! Be extremely suspicious if you are asked for money for transportation costs, communication fees or marriage processing and medical fees.
— If you do start an Internet-based relationship with someone, check them out, research what they are telling you with someone who would know, such as a current or former service member.
— Be very suspicious if you never get to actually speak with the person on the phone or are told you cannot write or receive letters in the mail. Service members serving overseas will often have an APO or FPO mailing address. Internet or not, service members always appreciate a letter in the mail.
— Military members have an email address that end in “.mil.” If the person you are speaking with cannot sent you at least one email from a “.mil” (.mil will be the very LAST part of the address and nothing after), then there is a high probability they are not in the military.
— Many of the negative claims made about the military and the supposed lack of support and services provided to troops overseas are far from reality — check the facts.
— Be very suspicious if you are asked to send money or ship property to a third party or company. Often times the company exists, but is not part of the scam.
— Be aware of common spelling, grammatical or language errors in the emails.
— Be cognizant of foreign and regional accents that do not match the person’s story.
The U.S. has established numerous task force organizations to deal with this and other growing issues; unfortunately, the people committing these scams are using untraceable email addresses on Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc., routing accounts through numerous locations around the world, and using pay-per-hour Internet cyber cafes, which often times maintain no accountability of use. The ability of law enforcement to identify these perpetrators is limited, so individuals must stay on the alert and be personally responsible to protect themselves.
Officials said that if you suspect that you are a victim, you should contact the authorities as soon as possible and stop all correspondence with that person immediately. They added that the scams are a grave misrepresentation of the U.S. Army and the tremendous amount of support programs and mechanisms that exist for Soldiers today, especially those serving overseas.
WHERE TO GO FOR HELP:
— Report the theft to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) (FBI-NW3C Partnership).
— Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the United States in their investigations.
By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
— Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission on Nigerian Scams.
For more information on CID, visit http://www.cid.army.mil.