Do you love a man, or woman in uniform? Online dating scammers hope so too. Modern online romance scams are premeditated, organized crimes that steal millions, potentially billions of dollars from vulnerable, lonely people over the internet.
The scammers may just have lit upon the perfect crime: They sit at computers safely overseas, hunting for their prey on social networks, and they rarely get caught. The victims are often left deeply damaged both financially and psychologically and so embarrassed that they’re reluctant to come forward even when they realize they’ve been scammed.
In the U.S., romance scams account for the highest financial losses of all internet-facilitated crimes, the FBI reports. The bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said it received 15,000 romance scam complaints last year ? a 20 percent increase over the previous year. Reported losses exceeded $230 million, but the FBI puts the true number much higher, estimating that only about 15 percent of these crimes are even being reported.
Could it happen here in greater New Ulm? It already has and these scammers are wearing the “cyber” uniforms of US Military personnel to trap their victims. I have met with people so sure that their love interest is the real McCoy that the mere suggestion that they may be victim to a scam is absurd.
These people believe that their soldiers really are on “secret missions” and that they need financial help to return from austere locations. These webs of deceit draw victims deeper in and farther away from the logic that can only be seen by those who are not smitten. It can drive deep divisions between family and friends, and financially ruin the love interest.
The US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) is warning anyone who is involved in online dating to proceed with caution when corresponding with persons claiming to be U.S. soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The “Soldier” begins asking for money for various false, service-related needs such as transportation costs, communication fees, marriage, processing and medical fees. Victims of these online scams have lost tens of thousands of dollars, with a very low possibility of recovery.
These “Dirty Dozen” should be seen as credible reasons to suspect that a romance scam is developing:
1. Soldiers and their loved ones are not charged money so that the soldier can go on leave. 2. No one is required to request leave on behalf of a soldier. 3. A general officer will not correspond with you on behalf of a soldier planning to take leave. 4. A general officer will not be a member of an internet dating site. 5. Soldiers are not charged money or taxes to secure communications or leave. 6. Soldiers do not need permission to get married. 7. Soldiers do not have to pay for early retirement. 8. Soldiers have medical insurance for themselves and their immediate family members (spouse and/or children), which pays for their medical costs when treated at health care facilities worldwide — family and friends do not need to pay their medical expenses. 9. Military aircraft are not used to transport privately qwned vehicles. 10. Army financial offices are not used to help soldiers buy or sell items of any kind. 11. Soldiers deployed to combat zones do not need to solicit money from the public to feed or house their troops. 12. Deployed soldiers do not find large sums of money and do not need your help to get that money out of the country.
The following tips will help you to avoid scams:
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. Servicemen and women serving overseas will often have an APO or FPO mailing address. Internet or not, service members always appreciate a letter in the mail. 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 has no idea or is not a part of the scam. Be aware of common spelling, grammatical or language errors in the emails.
Where to get help: Report these solicitations to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at: www.ic3.gov or to your local law enforcement agency. ID Theft can be reported by anybody by calling: 1-877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).