Have you met someone online who says that they’re a member of the military? Have they asked you to send gift cards, documents, or money? If so, there’s a good chance that you may be the victim of one of thousands of military scams conducted each and every day. The United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) receives hundreds of reports each month from individuals who have fallen victim to a scam conducted by a cyber criminal impersonating a U.S. Soldier online.
MILITARY SCAMS: ROMANCE
U.S. military officials warn those involved in online dating with those claiming to be a U.S. military member to use extreme caution. Military Romance Scams are a type of Romance Scam where cyber criminals target singles who use dating websites or other social media platforms, but they are not U.S. soldiers. To carry out this scam, cyber criminals create a phony persona using the identity of a current or former U.S. soldier. They choose a number of appealing photos of the soldier, research their backstory or design one of their own. By using the persona of a U.S. soldier, especially one who can be “verified” online, the cyber criminal gains a level of trust, as someone choosing to risk their life for their country must be a good person, right?
Using the identity of a soldier, the cyber criminal will express strong emotions toward their victim in a relatively short period of time. They’re likely to move the conversation away from the website where they first met, citing problems with connections or other reasons. In reality, they do this because they know most dating websites offer security features to pinpoint and remove scammers, which would blow their cover.
During this time, the cyber criminal makes it clear to their victim that they’re unable to meet in person because they’re aren’t stationed locally. Video chatting will be off the table due to the reported connection problems and while they may be open to a phone call, they’re likely to have connection problems there as well, further “validating” the spottiness of their connection.
Once they’ve gained the trust of their victim through regular communication and sometimes by sending gifts, the cyber criminal makes their move. This is when they begin requesting help with personal emergencies, transportation costs, communication fees, marriage licensing, processing, or medical fees.
This may be in the form of bank transfers, “moving” money on their behalf, sending gift cards, or providing official documents. They may try to prove the legitimacy of their request by providing documentation “proving” the situation, though it’s important to note that this documentation is falsified. Here is an exampls of such documentation:
Victims of these online military scams often think they are doing a good deed by helping a military member. Instead, they have given their money to a scammer, sometimes losing thousands of dollars, with very low possibility of recovery.
MILITARY SCAMS: SEXTORTION
Another scam involving members of the military are Sextortion Scams. In these scams, cyber criminals engage in online sexual activity with unsuspecting service members. Then, they demand money or favors in exchange for not publicizing the potentially embarrassing images, videos, or chat conversations. Military members wishing to preserve their reputation then appease these cyber criminals by doing what they ask, often losing thousands of dollars in the process. Then, when they’re no longer able to fulfil the demands of the cyber criminal, those embarrassing images, videos, or conversations may be made public or the victim may learn that copies of the embarrassing images, videos, or conversations are no longer held by the cyber criminal and that there was never a “need” to give in to the requests from the start.
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MILITARY SCAMS: WHAT TO LOOK FOR
There are a number of words and phrases scammers use to hook unsuspecting men and women into relationships. Here are a few examples of a few phrases they might say:
- They claim to be on a “peacekeeping mission”
- He or she is seeking a relationship with someone honest.
- Their parents, spouse, or child is deceased.
- A nanny or other guardian is caring for their child.
- They profess their love very quickly.
- Terms of endearment, like “my love”, “my darling” are used in place of your name.
- They state that they can’t wait to be with you.
- Webcams and phone calls are off limits for “security reasons.”
- Their English and grammar don’t match that of someone born and raised in the United States.
MILITARY SCAMS: THINGS TO KNOW
Often, scammers use similar stories to convince others that they have a legitimate need for help. Here are some things that you should know to counteract some of the most common scenarios:
- Military members and their families are not charged money so that they can go on leave.
- There is never a requirement for another person to request leave on behalf of a military member.
- A general officer will not correspond with you on behalf of a soldier requesting leave.
- Soldiers do not need permission to get married.
- Soldiers are not charged money to secure the ability to communicate with others.
- Military personnel do not have to pay for early retirement.
- All military personnel are provided with medical insurance for themselves and their immediate family members which pays for their medical costs and the medical costs of their family members anywhere in the world.
- Military financial offices are not used to help military personnel buy or sell items of any kind.
- Those deployed in the military do not need to solicit money from the public to feed or house their troops.
- Deployed military personnel do not find large amounts of money and do not need your help getting that money out of the country.
MILITARY SCAMS: HOW TO AVOID THEM
- Never, ever send money to someone you don’t already know in person, no matter how believable their story may be. Be extra suspicious if you’re asked for money for transportation costs, communication fees, medical fees, or if Western Union is involved.
- Do your research. Search for their name, pictures, and text from their profile and messages online to see if it matches other sources or scam warnings.
- Choose pay-based dating websites with a dedicated security team who work to monitor accounts for inconsistencies and traits/behaviors common in scammers.
- Keep your conversations with anyone new on the dating website for at least a week or until a comfortable level of trust has been built--whichever is longer.
- If a dating website contacts you to say that someone you were in contact with was removed for safety reasons, trust their judgment as they have many tools to see behind the scenes and do not take the decision to remove someone lightly.
- Use browser protection like Guardio to identify when a link a scammer who contacted you contains a phishing attempt.
- Activate account monitoring so that you’ll be alerted if a scammer has made your information public to other criminals on the deep web.
- Report to the dating website when someone requests money from you or causes you to feel suspicious of their identity.
- If you’ve fallen victim to a military scam, unfortunately it is unlikely that you’ll get your money back since cyber criminals are often located overseas and are untraceable. You can, however, report the scam to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) to help keep others safe.