Fort McCoy News Oct. 9, 2015

Army CID warns of Internet romance scams

QUANTICO, Va. — "He loves me, he loves me not." The phrase has been repeated by many looking for love. In today's world of online dating and social-media sites, however, the phrase may have changed from the plucking of petals to a stroke of the keys with, "He is real, he is not."

With millions of Americans turning to the Internet for love and companionship, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command warns of romance scams and impersonation fraud that may drain people both emotionally and financially.

In the last six months of 2014, online romance scams cost their victims more than $82 million, according to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. The average financial loss from these romance schemes is between $15,000 and $20,000.

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The Criminal Investigation Command, commonly known as CID, reports many of these cybercriminals pose as U.S. Soldiers or senior Army officers and noncommissioned officers. The criminals often post official Army photographs and biographies in an attempt to build trust with their victims and coax personal and financial information out of them.

Officials warn that the perpetrators use both social-media and online dating sites, promising love and romance to unsuspecting victims.

After the initial introduction, often through very personal, intimate conversations via instant messaging or email, the scammers attempt to manipulate and exploit their victims. Tactics used by cybercriminals include preying on their victim's emotions and appealing to their sense of empathy and patriotism.

Before long, the cybercriminal makes a request for money. Complying with these requests often places the victim at risk financially and opens them up to the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft.

"We cannot stress enough that people need to stop sending money to persons they meet on the Internet and claim to be in the U.S. military," said Chris Grey, Army CID spokesman.

"It is heartbreaking to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met and sometimes have never even spoken to on the phone."

Grey explained the victims most often are unsuspecting women, 30 to 55 years old, who think they are romantically involved with American Soldiers on the Internet, when in fact they are being robbed by perpetrators thousands of miles away.

The perpetrators often take the rank and name of a real U.S. Soldier who is serving honorably somewhere in the world or has left the service and post that information with photographs of a Soldier downloaded from the Internet. Many of them say they are serving in a combat zone or foreign country, most often West African countries. The perpetrators give excuses for needing money, including medical care, returning to the United States, selling their car, and helping their children.

"These thieves are very good at what they do. They manipulate the emotions of their victims and will make claims about Army regulations that the public does not know are incorrect," Grey said. "The majority of the time, the service member is not even aware their name and photo is being used in this way."

Investigators urge the public to consider the following:

• Be extremely suspicious if you are asked for money for transportation costs, communication fees, or marriage processing or medical fees. Don't ever send money.

• If you do start an Internet-based relationship with someone, research what he or she is telling you with someone who would know, such as a current or former service member.

• Be very suspicious if you never 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.

• Many of the negative claims made about the military and the supposed lack of support and services provided to troops overseas are inaccurate — 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 spelling, grammar, or language errors in the emails.

People who think they have been scammed can report the fraud or theft to the Internet Crime Complaint Center online at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx; the Federal Trade Commission online at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft, by phone at 877-438-4338 or TTY 866-653-4261, or by mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580; or the Federal Trade Commission on Nigerian Scams via email at spam@uce.gov.

For more information on CID, visit www.cid.army.mil/.

   (Article prepared by CID Public Affairs)