by Guest Author, CJ Grisham, of A Soldier’s Perspective
WOTN asked me to write a blog post for his readers about the signs and symptoms of a potential military dating scam.
First, let me go over a brief history of the scams that generally originate in Nigeria and a few other African nations.
Readers may remember receiving (or still receive) emails informing the recipient that they had just won a kabillion dollars after a long lost family member died in Africa. The family member had no other family members, but after an exhaustive research effort, you had been identified as that lost relative to receive the funds. The way the scam worked is that victims would have to pay customs and handling fees in the hundreds or thousands of dollars to receive their claim. A pittance of the promised kabillion dollars, right? And I had a lot of fun playing with these guys under the guise of my alter ego, David Sneakers.
Around 2004, the scammers began paying attention to all the troops that were getting busted trying to sneak hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the states that they had uncovered during the war. With all that money out there, surely they could capitalize on this. The scams began to imitate real troops that had supposedly found millions of dollars of Saddam’s personal stash. They sent out emails claiming to be a Soldier from a well-known unit – usually 3rd Infantry Division since we were the ones that had taken down Baghdad – to add authenticity to the story. Sometimes, they’d even choose a name that had been featured in a story and provide a link to that story as if it were them.
In a June 2009 poll, the military ranked number one in confidence from the American public. Consistently, the military has ranked in the top five most respected, for decades.
For this reason, the scammers have found a lucrative market in stealing money from unsuspecting victims. There is a lot of admiration, patriotism, and confidence in our troops. And when someone purports to be a troop, it’s difficult for most people to assume the worst about them and they are more likely to support them.
Of course, eventually, this scam withered out, as news of the scam became public and news reports were prevalent for those Soldiers that were caught trying to smuggle money back home. Additionally, most people recognized that even if it were real, they would be committing fraud if they helped these troops. No amount of admiration would convince most people to help a Soldier commit a crime and risk being charged themselves.
The scammers were left scrambling for another source of illegitimate income.
With the wars going on for about five years, the internet was amassing a wealth of scam-worthy material. The proliferation of military blogs, Facebook, and news stories about troops flushed the scam market with photos galore. All the scammers had to do was troll Facebook for unsecured pages of troops and save their photos.
With these photos, scammers would create fake profiles on military dating sites and pretend to be deployed troops. Even better was to use the photos of troops with pictures of themselves and their kids. The scammer would use these to tear at the heartstrings of unsuspecting single women, concocting tragic stories of how the mother of these beautiful kids was killed in a terrible accident or from cancer. This poor Soldier was left to raise these awesome kids alone while deployed in a combat zone.
What red-blooded, single, American woman wouldn’t swoon at the prospect of being the saving grace in the life of one of America’s heroes?! The scammers added in sprinklings of poetry and published love letters to serve the icing on the cake.
The unfortunate part of all this is that legitimately single troops on these dating sites were suddenly suspect. Some of them actually received angry messages from women that had been scammed calling them frauds just because they claimed their rightful military service as part of their profile.
Case in point, I was contacted by a retired Colonel recently. He told me that out of the blue he was contacted by a lady who said, “U r a dating scammer. Get off this website.” Naturally, he was blown away and emailed her back to ask how she had come to that conclusion.
Apparently, this woman had been scammed before and didn’t want to be bothered. She directed him to my website to check out my Wall of Shame where I expose these guys and encourage victims to post the names and information about known scammers. I was able to confirm his identity through the Army system and notified Plenty of Fish about the potential misunderstanding.
But, how do you know the military person you’re speaking to is a scammer or not. Allow me to offer you a few tips that will assist you in easily vetting these guys.
1) Military email. Most scammers – I estimate about 95% of them – use Yahoo as their email of choice. The reason for this is simple. Yahoo makes IP tracking more difficult than other programs like Gmail and Hotmail. When the recipient of an email runs an IP tracer, the emails usually come back from Sunnyvale, CA. This may convince some women that the person is in America and probably legitimate. However, Sunnyvale is where Yahoo keeps its servers. So, all Yahoo Mail goes through Sunnyvale. The best way to flush out a scammer that is supposedly in the military is to ask them to send you an email from their military email address. EVERY MEMBER OF THE MILITARY has one of these military addresses. If they are in the Army, ask them for their AKO email address and send them an email. If they respond from that email address, you got yourself a keeper. If it gets kicked back as undeliverable or the recipient asks “who the hell is this?” then you know it’s a scam. This is the most foolproof method of identifying a scammer.
Along these lines, if you ask a supposed Soldier for his AKO or military email address and he starts pulling the “trust” card, you know it’s a scam also. Any Soldier truly in love with the woman of his dreams that he met on a dating site would have no problem proving he’s a real Soldier if you explain why you’re asking for it. There is no such thing as being unable to send an email due to “security concerns”, especially if he’s emailing you anyway! If he comes up with any excuse that he can’t use or give you his military email address HE’S A SCAMMER!! Using this tip will oust 99% of all scammers.
2) Requests for phone. I’m not going to lie, the internet is expensive here in Afghanistan. I pay $90 a month for “high speed” internet that wouldn’t even qualify as dial-up back home. But, I would NEVER ask a complete stranger to foot that bill. Even if I didn’t want to or couldn’t pony up those dollars, there are places where Soldiers can access the internet for free on most FOBs. Additionally, Soldiers are able to make free morale calls from combat zones to virtually anywhere back home. We don’t need special communications plans or systems that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to set up. Everything is already set up for us here. If you feel your heart feeling sorry for a Soldier asking for money to obtain a communications service, Google it first. You’ll be surprised what you may find. Bottom line: if they can email you to ask for money to pay for comms, they can get internet for free!
3) Love at first sight. Even when you’ve never “seen” each other. Scammers go from complete stranger to eternal companion in 60 seconds. Let’s be honest here. Men don’t like to say “I love you” unless they really mean it. Even then, the words sting coming out of our mouths. Only co-dependent, morbidly obese, and fake men express love right away. There are only two types of men that will fall in love with a woman (and actually say it) within a week or two or a month: scammers and guys that just want to get in your pants! You don’t want a relationship with either, believe me!
4) High ranking scammers. It’s amazing how brazen some of these scammers are. Would you believe that some of them are on dating sites, claiming to be very public general officers like General David Petraeus or General Ray Odierno. Now tell me, if these two guys were really single, do you think they’d need to be on Match.com to find a replacement wife or girlfriend? Odierno, maybe, but Petraeus is a pretty attractive guy (I know, I can’t really say that for another 18 days). He doesn’t need to be trolling internet dating sites for the love of his life. A simple Google would confirm the sob story about losing his wife. Others will use less-known general officers in their scams who are also easily confirmed with a simple internet search.
5) Couriers and representatives. Most of these scammers use third party “friends” to obtain money. They will talk about needing money to pay couriers or have special representatives to assist them with many items like leaves and passes (see next bullet). If there is any mention of couriers or representatives or third parties, it’s a scam. Surely a real Soldier knows how to pay a bill by himself!
6) Leaves and passes. A common tactic used the Nigerian military dating scammer is to convince his victim that he wants to come and see you either on leave or after the end of his tour. However, there’s always that pesky problem of obtaining a leave or pass. And the military is so inefficient and unable to process leaves that he needs YOUR help to get home so that you two can be married or go off on an exotic vacation together. The scammer will need his victim to pretend that she is his fiancé or wife and sign the leave form so he can go home. There’s only one problem with this: no military member needs permission from his wife, girlfriend, or significant other to get leave. I can take leave any time I want whether my wife approves or not! But, let’s say that everything seems legit and the victim signs the leave paperwork. Guess what the next step is?
7) Transportation costs. Once the leave is “approved”, the victim will probably be contacted by the scammer’s supervisor or “officer in charge” with a wild claim that the Soldier can’t go on leave because he can’t access his account to pay for the ticket. This, of course, can be fixed once he makes it back to the states and has access to his money. Naturally, the commanding officer is asking you to pay for his plane ticket and promises that the love of her life will pay her back as soon as he lands! Fact: the military pays for a servicemember in combat zone to fly all the way home to any leave destination of his choice. We even fly Soldiers to Spain, Germany, Italy, etc. if that is where they want to enjoy their R&R leave. Cost to the Soldier? $0. There is simply no need to ask for money, so when this arises, revert to my final tip.
8) Requests for money. I’m going to make this one simple and to the point. If the person claiming to be a military member asks for money, he’s one of two things: 1) a scammer or 2) a loser. Even if he’s a real Soldier and he’s asking you for money for anything, he’s probably not the type you want to spend the rest of your life with. Soldiers make, on average, about $750-1000 per month extra on their paychecks in various special pays that come with getting shot at on a daily basis. If he can’t manage all this money efficiently, is that really someone you want a relationship with? He would probably still be living with his mother if the Army wasn’t providing him with a free room. And even then, I bet he never leaves his body odor drenched room for fear of losing his Call of Duty battles with 12-year Joey from Virginia! It seems like common sense to me.
The bottom line is that these guys aren’t really smart against an internet savvy person. The majority of their claims can be easily solved with a simple internet search. Many times, these guys send the same emails to many different women and most of them have been published online. Just copy and paste a phrase or sentence from their love poetry and you’ll find numerous website with the exact same information.
If you have any questions, you can leave a comment under this blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CJ Grisham is as a Master Sergeant in the United States Army, currently deployed to Afghanistan. He has been investigating and exposing these scammers for over 5 years now. He has been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Fox News, CNN, and dozens of local news stations and papers across the country and abroad. His personal blog, A Soldier’s Perspective, has won numerous honors among the milblogging and blogging communities and has been invited to the White House by the President Bush and President Obama Administrations.
(c) 2011 A Soldier's Perspective, CJ Grisham