Scams involving Military Personnel
Scammers impersonating Military personnel are becoming increasingly common. They start in most cases by contacting you on a social networking site claiming to be in the military, usually the US military. This scam is performed by male scammers using stolen pictures of male military personnel. There have however been limited reports of scammers pretending to be female military personnel as well.
They will get to know their victims quickly, preferring to use instant messaging to speed the scam up. They will however also use emails only to groom their victims if needed.
Like most romance scams, they will be quick to fall in love and display most of the common characteristics of any other African romance scam:
Bad English and grammar
Not paying much attention to what you say
Rarely answering questions
Over use of terms such as "babe"
Telling you how attractive you are and how much you mean to them often and early
Possibly having children at home being looked after by a family member
Stolen poetry being sent with claims they wrote it themselves.
Wife left them after infidelity or killed in an accident
In almost all cases the scammers will claim to be currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan however IP checks will usually place them in Africa or increasingly Malaysia.
See link below for further information on African (Nigerian) romance scams.
How does the Military Romance scam work
There are several scenarios to this scam that are commonly attempted throughout, as well as any other of the more traditional romance scam excuses if they believe they will be able to extract money from their victim.
The most common military scam variants are:
The military leave scam
The satellite phone scam
or a large amount of "acquired' money that needs to be shipped
The Military Leave Scam
In this variant, the Scammer will suggest that they want to take leave so they can visit you. They will tell you that, in order to take leave you need to apply for leave on their behalf. At this stage they will often refer to you as their spouse. They will put you in touch with a superior officer to arrange the leave with you. The "superior officer" will in most cases be the same scammer, if not, it will be his accomplice Either way it will be part of the scam.
The Person you are directed to will usually send some fake documents and forms for you to fill in, and then tell you about a fee that needs to be paid. A "Replacement officer fee" is one such fee title that has been used. Usually payment will be requested by Western Union or Moneygram. Many scammers also have means of receiving money into a bank account if required.
This scam goes completely against how leave works in the US military. Military leave is little different to most other companies. If an employee is entitled to leave they will apply for it themselves and there is no fee payable. Further, the US Military (or other military forces for that matter) will not allow another person to apply for leave on a soldier's behalf. The mention of filling in a leave form for a military person is a definite sign of a scam.
The Satellite Phone Variant
In this variant, the scammer may suggest that he is about to be deployed to another area where there is no regular phone service and possibly reduced access to the internet or chat. In order to keep in touch, he will suggest a phone (possibly a satellite phone or tellex) that will allow contact while he is deployed in a remote area.
The scammer may suggest that with this phone service future phone calls would be free or a greatly reduced price and often fixed as part of a contract. The scammer will often insist it is the only way to keep in touch. Of course, even without the phone, the scammer will always manage to stay in touch with you as that is the only way to be able to get their hands on your money.
Usually this part of the scam sees the scammer direct you to a fake company representative or perhaps a convincing website that will discuss the terms and conditions of the phone to you. There may be fake contracts to fill in or documents to be sent to make it seem more official.
At this stage the scammer will insist that he is unable to pay for the service at this time for one of many reasons and he will ask you to pay it for him, in most cases promising to pay you back as soon as he can.
Again, this is completely false. The US military goes to great lengths to ensure their personnel have access to the means to communicate with their family back home wherever possible. The length of calls and time spent on the phone may well be rationed but there will be access to be able to communicate with loved ones back home.
The "Saddams Millions" variation
One more twist the scammer may take is to tell you that he has discovered a large sum of money and he will offer you a large portion of it to take delivery of it. This is much closer to the much older scam referring to Saddam's millions which was commonly used by scammers without a romantic component. In order for the money to reach you, a courier of some kind will need to be paid and this is where the scam victim comes in. Of course the millions the scammer mentions does not exists and any money sent to the "courier' will be lost and gone forever.
In this variant of the scam you may be introduced to couriers, diplomats, bankers or barristers who will assist with the delivery of the money to you. Any person you are introduced to will be a part of the scam, the large sum of money never existed, and even if it did there would be no legal way to remove it from the country. Of course, the scammers will tell you otherwise and with every fee you pay there will be another fee. In fact, the fees will only stop when the victim stops paying them.
Of course, scammers will vary their scams and add new twists and turns. The main thing to remember is that if anybody ever asks you to send them money, even if it seems like its a Soldier, it will be a scam and if anything mentioned here looks remotely familiar you need to be considering that it IS a scam.
What to do
If you believe you are communicating with a scammer, even if you have the slightest of doubts, if you have been asked to send money to anybody, stop communicating with them immediately and ask here for advice.
Remember, anything you say to the scammer about how you found out that it is a scam can be used by the scammer to improve his scamming for the next person.
If you have sent any money, unfortunately it will be gone and you will not be able to get the money back. Neither will you be able to have the scammer arrested. These scams are run primarily by African males who use fake details, stolen pictures and the anonymity of an internet café to scam and they are virtually untraceable. Couple that with your local police having no jurisdiction where the scam occurred and the corruption that is often present in the countries where these scammers operate and you have no chance of an arrest.
In some cases, after you have stopped communicating, you may have further scams attempted on you. The new scams may be completely unrelated but one further scam often attempted is known as a recovery scam. Recovery scams usually begin with somebody contacting you and suggesting that the scammer is in custody or that they can have your money returned. Ultimately there will be fees to be paid and the scammer will be in your purse again.
Who is the Military person in the picture
Many soldiers post their pictures on social network sites for family and friends back home. Scammers are aware of this and actively look for these pictures to steal as part of their scams. It is extremely unlikely that we will ever be able to find out who is actually in the picture, and even if we did there is no way to prevent the scammer from using those or any other military pictures that are posted all over the internet.
The people in the pictures rarely know their pictures have been used, let alone know who you are. It is likely they are married and have kids of their own. Their only mistake is to post pictures somewhere for family and friends.
How to help others
Once you know that it’s a scam, you can help by ensuring as many details as possible about the scammer are posted on the internet to enable search tools to find them. Many people after seeing something suspicious will begin to do some searches or we ourselves may investigate trying to find evidence of a scam. Sometimes the smallest detail can lead to the evidence needed to save somebody from being scammed. Headers, phone numbers, email addresses, pictures used, the poems and the documents you received and the emails from the scammer or anybody he introduced you to are all helpful.
Please DO NOT post emails from yourself and definately do not post any of your own information. We are only interested in the information about the scammer, not you.
You can also make a big difference by discussing what has happened with family and friends. Most people who are scammed were unaware of the dangers and didn't have people around them who know enough about scams to prevent it from happening.
Learn the warning signs and how to spot the scammers and share your knowledge with others. You never know who you can save from being scammed just by talking about it.
For futher information you might like to take a look at these useful links
Important Facts About American Military
Tips and advices from a real military (thanks to Major Gordon Hannett)
Advice from TS2 (a satelite phone provider) about scams using their name
A warning from the US Department of Defence
BBC Article on Military scams
A warning from the US Army Criminal Investigation Command
Profile of a Military Scammer
Further information on Nigerian romance scams