Scammers are using photos of a “silver fox” European defence minister to trick women out of tens of thousands of pounds.
The Latvian Defence Office has issued the alert after it was made aware of more than 100 fake profiles, posing as the defence minister and deputy prime minister Artis Pabriks.
One fraudster, posing as “Murphy Townsend” but using the Latvian minister’s photo, tricked British woman Sharon Bulmer out of nearly £80,000.
The fraudster initially messaged Ms Bulmer on Facebook in May 2020 saying he was “lonely”.
The pair began an online friendship, in which “Mr Townsend” told her he was a US soldier who needed money to leave Syria and visit her.
Only after two years of messaging did Ms Bulmer discover that the suave Mr Townsend was not who he said he was.
The 51-year-old said: “He asked me to help me and I did, but it’s got me into huge debt.
“I fell for this person and I just wanted to help him so much. I know I have been a fool but these are the things we do for love.”
She added: “He said he was lonely, he’s serving in Syria, his wife had passed away and he just wanted someone to speak to.
“He said he’d been watching me on Facebook – I don’t know what that means.”
After initially chatting on Facebook, they continued on Google Hangouts but never once video-called – as Mr Townsend said he wasn’t allowed to at his base.
He told Ms Bulmer he was serving with the 37th infantry brigade combat team at base 29 in Raqqa.
But when she later asked the US authorities about him, she was told they had no “Murphy Townsend” on their records at all.
Ms Bulmer ended her relationship with her partner of 29 years in order to start a new life with the supposed military man and sent nearly £80,000 over a two-and-a-half-year period for “hospital bills” and “plane tickets”.
Ms Bulmer, who is now £37,000 in debt, sent the money in Bitcoin.
She said she wanted to share her story to prevent others becoming victims of romance fraud, adding: “I want to help anyone out there to not be taken in by these idiots and just try and get on with my life.”
The Latvian Defence Office said they had been dealing with the continued identity theft of Mr Pabriks “for a long time”.
A spokesperson added: “We frequently receive screenshots from people who have been contacted by fraudsters and, recognising the official accounts of the defence minister, choose to report them.
“So far, we have collected and reported to Facebook more than 100 fake accounts, but the response has been negative.
“We feel that the security of everyday users both on Facebook and Instagram needs to be strengthened and supported in situations like these, and we encourage Facebook to pay more attention to these kinds of cases.”