Thousands swindled using soldier-in-need ruse

By Joe Gould - Staff writer - Military Times

Posted : Monday Mar 29, 2010 20:58:17 EDT

Whoever said all’s fair in love and war never met these Internet hucksters.

Con men impersonating deployed U.S. servicemen are hooking civilian women on dating Web sites and swindling them into spending money on fictitious laptops, international telephones, “leave papers” and plane tickets, said Chris Grey, a spokesman for Army Criminal Investigation Command.

The scheme appears to be a sophisticated twist on the ubiquitous lottery letter scam, but it uniquely exploits the victims’ patriotism and emotions while misrepresenting the Army and soldier-support programs, Grey said.

“These are not soldiers, they are thieves,” he said.

Officials say the phony American soldiers are often in reality African con men who seduce women online by creating profiles on dating and social media sites that appropriate the names, ranks and photos of actual soldiers, typically those serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Claiming the Army will not allow them access to personal bank accounts or credit cards, the sham soldiers will request thousands of dollars under the ruse that it will help keep the relationship going.

They often tell the victims that their units do not have telephones, that they are not allowed to make calls or they need money to “help keep the Army internet running,” Grey said.

“These perpetrators, often from other countries, most notably from Ghana, Angola and Nigeria, are good at what they do and quite familiar with American culture, but the claims about the Army and its regulations are ridiculous,” Grey said.

The scammers use untraceable e-mail addresses and shadowy cyber cafes, and these stymie law enforcement authorities and place the onus on the public to stay alert to protect itself.

Grey cautioned the public to be skeptical of new Internet friends, especially if they ask for money, make claims about a lack of services for soldiers, or if they say they cannot receive letters — as servicemen and women have Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office mailing addresses.

CID has not received reports of con men stealing anything from U.S. servicemen but their names and photos. However, Grey said, “The victims have lost thousands.”