The internet has changed and revolutionized our lives and the world we live in. The ability to share information, communicate and build relationships with anyone in the world is just a mouse click or swipe away.
These technological advancements also have a downside, which is providing new routes for thieves and scammers to work their way into our lives and hearts through online romance scams.
My day-to-day work requires me to spend most of my time online posting, tweeting and pushing out information to those in the Fort Bragg community. Unfortunately, that also means I see the downside of our hyper-connected society.
At least twice a week, each and every week, the Fort Bragg Facebook page receives a message that starts with, “Can you tell me if this is a real Soldier or not?” This simple question is usually the first red flag for me. Typically, this is being asked because money has already changed hands and the love interest in now asking for more.
In most cases, the “Soldier” in question normally claims to be deployed to a distant and, often times, volatile part of the world like Nigeria and Syria.
Imposters normally begin with small items, such as gift cards or phone cards, internet fees and even money for food. One victim explained, “… the previous money was paid through iTunes cards, which he said would be exchanged there for stuff that he needed.”
Once a victim is hooked, the prices begin to skyrocket.
As the scenario unfolds, the love interest will have an opportunity to come home on leave, but has to pay their own way. This is where the victim comes into play. The scammer promises to pay them back when they get home.
However, once that money is received, another emergency will come up requiring more money. The cycle continues until the victim runs out of money or realizes they are being scammed.
Scammers will go to great lengths to pull off their scams. I have seen websites which appear to allow the victims to conveniently request leave time for their “Soldier.” The website will even allow the victim to pay the cost associated with using that leave time.
These websites look real to the unsuspecting user, complete with links to other pages, photos and are covered with the U.S. Army logo. Without a military background, the victim is easily fooled. They may never realize that one of the photos is actually of Marines or feature actual Soldiers in outdated uniforms.
I have also seen email addresses in which the victim is supposed to request leave time for their love interest. The victim will receive an official-looking and sounding reply with an explanation on how pay for the requested time off.
Unfortunately, these scams have a global reach impacting people from around the world. I have received messages from people in the Philippines and the United Kingdom, who thought they were helping an American Soldier in a combat zone. Unbeknownst to them, their good intentions and search for love were being taken advantage of by an individual looking for a payday.
According the Criminal Investigation Command’s website on romance scams, these are some of the red flags to look for:

Soldiers and their loved ones are not charged money so that the Soldier can go on leave No one is required to request leave on behalf of a Soldier A general officer will not correspond with you on behalf of a Soldier planning to take leave A general officer will not be a member of an internet dating site Soldiers are not charged money or taxes to secure communications or leave Soldiers do not need permission to get married Soldiers do not have to pay for early retirement 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 Military aircraft are not used to transport privately owned vehicles Army financial offices are not used to help Soldiers buy or sell items of any kind Soldiers deployed to combat zones do not need to solicit money from the public to feed or house their troops. Deployed Soldiers do not find large sums of money and do not need your help to get that money out of the country We all strive to find love and happiness in our lives. Online dating has made it easier for people to find their special someone, however, it has also made it easier for con artists as well.
Trust your intuition; if your gut is telling you that something isn’t right or you’re being lied to, you probably are.
More information about online romance scams can be found at www.cid.army.mil/romancescam.html and www.army.mil/socialmedia/scams/.