A growing epidemic in the world today is the Online Romance Scam. Generally, a victim is contacted by someone online through various social media or a legitimate dating website. The victim and the scammer create an online relationship. While the victim may become suspicious overtime, the scammer lures them in with pictures, hardships, promises, excitement, and claims of love. Eventually, the scammer will ask for help, for various reasons, involving the victim sending money. After the scammer gets all the money they can from the victim, the scammer drops communication, leaving the victim dumbfounded, hurt, confused, and out of a lot of money, which is rarely recovered.
I receive TONS of e-mail per year from victims asking for help (because they knew I always wanted to be a spy). Unfortunately, by the time the money leaves their hands, it is gone forever. Usually, these scammers develop fake contacts, using easily obtained pictures from real U.S. soldiers. The scammers use internet cafes and reroute money multiple times to untraceable sources, and therefore, their true identity cannot be discovered. This scam has become so popular; there are now online support groups to aid victims in dealing with the emotional and monetary losses incurred with their experience.
Does this sound familiar?
Not only does this hurt the victim, but it damages the reputation of the United States Military member. Often times foreign victims fall for the scam, and really do think a U.S. Soldier stole their money! Even so, a military member legitimately looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right on the internet, is now up for a lot of investigation into, "Are You Real?" Unfortunately, these days when anyone can be whoever they want on the internet, it is important to do your part to verify as much as you can about a person so you can avoid giving out your personal information and pictures to someone you don't know. The person could be from any part of the world. The person could use your personal information and images to impersonate and even blackmail you.
So, if you decide to avoid the frozen food section of your local supermarket in hopes of finding love, and opt for the internet instead, use a few cautionary measures to try and protect yourself against these scams:
- Become a private investigator. Not only could this "Marine" be a Mexican from Nigeria, he could also be a serial killer from the most wanted website. Do your best to research every detail and verify what you can.
- Remember, pictures from the internet could be as simple as "copy and paste" from an unsuspecting Facebook page of a military member. Nowadays, technology is awesome, so if someone can get on the internet while abroad they most likely can Skype as well (live video conference). Phone calls are also available, so you should become suspicious if you get excuses instead of phone calls. No one has laryngitis for 5 months!
- How are you supposed to know what an "Official" military document looks like when you work at a convenience store? Printing capabilities for fraudulent documents are incredibly easy these days. In fact, the Army Criminal Investigation Command has an example page for commonly used False Documents to aid in detecting a scammer.
- Even though I get a concerning amount of e-mails from REAL U.S. Military members making me wonder how they ever passed the ASVAB, you should tip yourself off if the Internet Hunk is making common gramatical errors.
- Many of these scammers want their victims to mail packages to Africa. The liklihood of a legitimate lover to request the same desire as known scammers is slim to none. If your romantic babe isn't understanding when you say no for that reason, it's probably time to hit the cyber road.
- Assistance cashing checks? Do your research about the military. Our U.S. Soldiers overseas are taken care of, and do not need assistance from random people on the internet with their finances. Additional red-flags are when a Soldier requests needs that are provided by the Military or are unnecessary, such as transportation costs, communication fees, marriage processing, vacation time fees and medical fees.
- Is the Soldier also your Snail Mail Pen Pal? Most servicemen and women have an FPO or APO mailing address. In fact, each year there are programs for civilians to send Chritmas Cards to Military Members worldwide. If the Soldier really is in Afghanistan, you know, working on his sun-baked glow, he would probably enjoy a letter or card marked with a bright red lipstick kiss. You should get really suspicious if you are told Mr. Hotty is on a top secret mission in an ultra-secret, exciting location and they don't want the mailman to get bombed on the way to deliver his love-letter from you.
- You're so amazing; they have fallen in love with you in a week! Wow, you must be the cat's meow. Become suspicious if your online lover can't live without you in a short amount of time, especially if the scammer only wants to communicate through instant messaging or e-mail.
So, what can you do if you've found yourself in Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance?" CLICK HERE to Report the Bad Guy and Get Help!