WASHINGTON — Special agents from the Army Criminal Investigation Command are once again warning Internet users worldwide to be extra vigilant and not to fall prey to Internet scams or impersonation fraud — especially scams promising true love, but only end up breaking hearts and bank accounts.
Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, continues to receive hundreds of reports from people worldwide of various scams involving persons pretending to be U.S. Soldiers serving in Afghanistan or elsewhere, according to CID special agents.
The victims are most often unsuspecting women, 30 to 55 years old, who think they are romantically involved on the Internet with American Soldiers, when in fact they are being cyber-robbed by perpetrators thousands of miles away, they 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,” said Chris Grey, Army CID’s spokesman. “It is heartbreaking to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met and sometimes have never even spoken to on the phone.”
The majority of the “romance scams,” as they have been dubbed, are being perpetrated on social media, dating-type websites where unsuspecting females are the main target, he said.
The criminals are pretending to be U.S. servicemen, routinely serving in a combat zone. The perpetrators 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, Grey said.
“We have even seen instances where the Soldier was killed in action and the crooks have used that hero’s identity to perpetrate their twisted scam,” said CID Special Agent Matthew Ivanjack, who has fielded hundreds of calls and emails from victims.
The scams often involve carefully worded romantic requests for money from the victim to purchase special laptop computers, international telephones, military leave papers, and transportation fees to be used by the fictitious “deployed Soldier” so their false relationship can continue. The scams include asking the victim to send money, often thousands of dollars at a time, to a third party address.
Once victims are hooked, the criminals continue their ruse.
“We’ve even seen instances where the perpetrators are asking the victims for money to purchase leave papers from the Army, help pay for medical expenses from combat wounds or help pay for their flight home so they can leave the war zone,” said Grey.
These scams are outright theft and are a grave misrepresentation of the Army and the tremendous amount of support programs and mechanisms that exist for Soldiers today, especially those serving overseas, said Grey.
Along with the romance-type scams, CID has been receiving other complaints from people worldwide who were scam victims — once again where a cyber-crook was impersonating a U.S. service member.
One version usually involves the sale of a vehicle; where the service member claims to be living overseas and has to quickly sell their vehicle because they are being sent to another duty station, said Grey. After sending bogus information regarding the vehicle, the seller requests the buyer do a wire transfer to a third party to complete the purchase. When 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.
“These are not Soldiers, they are outright thieves,” said Grey.
The perpetrators often tell the victims that their units do not have telephones or they are not allowed to make calls or they need money to “help keep the Army Internet running,” he said. They often say they are widowers and raising a young child on their own to pull on the heartstrings of their victims.
“We’ve even seen instances where the criminals said that the Army won’t allow the Soldier to access their personal bank accounts or credit cards,” he added.
All lies, according to CID officials.
“These perpetrators, often from other countries, most notably from West African countries, are good at what they do and quite familiar with American culture, but the claims about the Army and its regulations are ridiculous,” said Grey.
The Army reports that numerous very senior officers and enlisted Soldiers throughout the Army have had their identities stolen to be used in these scams.
To date, there have been no reports to Army CID indicating any U.S. service members have suffered any financial loss as a result of these attacks, according to CID.
The victims, though, have lost thousands in these scams, officials said. In one extreme example, a woman from New York took out a second mortgage on her home to get money to help her “Soldier.” She lost more than $60,000. More recently, a woman from the United Kingdom told CID officials she had sent more than $75,000 to the con artists.
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 very limited, so individuals must stay on the alert and be personally responsible to protect themselves.
“Another critical issue is we don’t want victims who do not report this crime walking away and thinking that a U.S. serviceman has ripped them off when in fact that serviceman is honorably serving his country and often not even aware that his pictures or identity have been stolen,” said Grey.
Here are some places to visit:
Report a scam to the Internet Crime Complaint unit at: http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
Also, report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. This will help law enforcement officials across the United States in their investigations. Visit: http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call: 1.877.ID.THEFT (438.4338). Or, mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.
(Information obtained from a CID release. For more ARNEWS stories, visit www.army.mil/ARNews, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArmyNewsService.)