Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) receives hundreds of reports a month from individuals who have fallen victim to a scam perpetrated by a person impersonating a U.S. Soldier online.
Victims of these “romance scams” report they became involved in an online relationship with someone they believed to be a U.S. Soldier who then began asking for money for various false service-related needs. Victims of these scams can lose tens of thousands of dollars and face a slim likelihood of recovering any of it.
Victims may encounter these romance scammers on a legitimate dating website or social media platform, but they are not U.S. Soldiers. To perpetrate this scam, the scammers take on the online persona of a current or former U.S. Soldier, and then, using photographs of a Soldier from the internet, build a false identity to begin prowling the web for victims.
The most common scheme involves criminals, often from other countries — most notably from West African countries — pretending to be U.S. Soldiers serving in a combat zone or other overseas location. These crooks often present documents and other “proof” of their financial need when asking their victims to wire money to them.
CID’s Computer Crime Investigative Unit also cautions Soldiers themselves to be on the guard for “sextortion scams.” In these scams, criminals engage in online sexual activity with unsuspecting Service members and then demand money or favors in exchange for not publicizing potentially embarrassing images, video or information.
Such scams, when they involve dating sites, pose a unique challenge in the fight against impostors and identity thieves, because on such sites a dating profile is often required to conduct a search for fake accounts. That makes it difficult for organizations to monitor those sites for impersonators using a Soldier’s or key leaders’ information in a scam.