Perhaps you, or a friend or family member serves or has served our country in the military. Or, as a civilian, you’re concerned with the health and welfare of our military families. Unfortunately, there are scammers out there who try to take advantage of our military heroes.
In 2021, military agencies have received hundreds of allegations a month from victims who claim that they were involved in an online relationship with someone, on a legitimate dating website or other social media website, who claims to be a U.S. soldier. The “soldier” then begins asking for money for various false, service-related or personal needs such as transportation costs, communication fees, marriage, processing and medical fees. Victims of these online scams have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with a very low possibility of recovery.
Proceed with caution when corresponding with persons claiming to be U.S. soldiers currently serving or having served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or elsewhere. These romance scams are just one example of the common military-targeted ruses.
- As the conversation continues surrounding refugees from Afghanistan heading to U.S destinations, scammers are putting up fake fronts. These phony online pleas for donations are popping up online, and the Better Business Bureau wants people to make sure they’re not getting taken advantage of.
- Look out for social media feeds from fake accounts posting as former military, non-commissioned officers. One popular scam uses the likeness and photos of General Scott Miller (now a retired U.S. commander in Afghanistan.). These accounts are largely used to trick people out of money and items like gift cards and cellphones.
- Examine any request from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) or another military group that claims, due to computer problems, your information was lost and needs to be reentered to process payments.
- Beware of fake military “charities” that prey on military families and have names that sound like real organizations. They often ask for money for wounded or disabled veterans. Instead, consider legitimate charities that already have an established presence in the U.S.
- Look out for phony debt collectors who . contact military personnel and try to pressure them into paying debts they don’t have.
- Watch out for credit monitoring scams that target active-duty members who are being deployed. They offer to monitor credit and defend against identity theft, but instead they use the victim’s credit information to go on a spending spree, leaving the victim to foot the bill.
- Be careful of romance scams where the scammer, posing as a service member, asks you or a loved one to pay for security for gold bars he would be sending to the U.S., or is asking for money to come home from deployment.
Know How to Protect Yourself
When meeting new singles online, usually one of the first things you do is exchange photos. Use a search engine to check if your correspondent goes by another name or lives in a different city. If so, it’s an indication they may be lying to you about who they really are.
If you’ve been corresponding with someone by e-mail, cut and paste the text from one of his or her e-mails into Google and see if the words pop up on any romance scam sites. Consumer Reports advises to “check the address on a site such as romancescams.org, which compiles lists of e-mail addresses of known scammers. The website Scamalytics maintains a blacklist of scammers who use false pictures.”
Set some boundaries. Conceal your last name, e-mail address and where you work until you’ve actually met. Don’t share your social media accounts or anything that can trace them back to you. And be wary of admirers who ask about this information before you’ve exchanged pleasantries.
Remove tracking. There’s a new crop of GPS-based dating apps that automatically scan for potential mates through proximity and convenience. If you’re using a mobile app, turn off your location services so cons can’t decipher where you’re located.
Don’t give a new acquaintance access to your money—including ATM cards, bank accounts, credit cards or investment accounts.
Resources: Stars and Stripes, Military OneSource, Channel 3000; U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Investopedia