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Can You Spot the Scammer?

Ms. Vicki

Each week, I get letters by email, on my website, by Twitter and on Facebook from women who are sending money to Africa and Afghanistan to help servicemembers come home.

This is a scam!! These are not men who are in the United States military. They are scam artists preying on desperate women. Can you spot the telltale marks of a scam in the letters below?

*****

Dear Ms Vicki,

I met a sergeant in the Army on Facebook from the Zoosk dating site. We have been texting since May. His name is Sgt. Larry Williams, and he was in Afghanistan from Fort Campbell.

He started asking me to send $400 for a secure phone line. I tried to raise the money but was making myself sick trying. He says he was deployed to Africa about three weeks ago, and kept asking about the money. I told him I just did not have it.

His response was that he could not take the texting, so I said I guess that meant that we were over. He responded that he would rather forget about the phone than to lose me.

Sincerely,
Is He For Real?

*****

Hi, Ms. Vicki.

I really need your help because I’m trying to help my Army guy from Fort Campbell. You see, he is deployed and he needs my help financially or he cannot come home from downrange and see me for his R&R because he has to pay his fees.

His commander contacted me and said he still needs $12,000 before he can be released. At first, it was three thousand and I sent it. Then I was contacted saying he needs more.

This man is the love of my life and I really want to be with him. He has been through so much on these deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s so unfair that the military would put all of these restrictions on them before releasing them. He needs to relax and enjoy himself instead of going from one war to the next. He hasn’t been home in three years!

What can I do to draw attention to my soldier’s situation? Should I call my congressman, my senator -- who?

Sincerely,
Stuck in a Serious Situation

*****

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I’m writing you to find out if I am being scammed by this man who I met on Facebook. He is a lieutenant colonel in the army and stationed at Fort Campbell. We have been communicating online for the past year. He really has my heart now, and I can’t wait to finally be in his arms.

He is in special operations and has a lot of covert operations. One minute, he is in Afghanistan and the next minute he is in Africa. I have to send him money from time to time so that he can stay in constant communication with me, but that’s OK because I understand that he cannot have access to his money because he is constantly on the go.

I hadn’t heard from him for over three weeks, and I was so worried. Two days ago, he called me and said he needs money so he can come home. First, he will go to Nebraska to visit his family and then he will come and see me in Kentucky.

I’m supposed to pay $3,500 in fees to his unit so they can release him, and he will give me the money when he comes home and goes to his bank, Wells Fargo.

My family is very upset with me because they think I’m crazy for sending money to someone I have never met. I think I’m in love and helping a man who is serving our country. They say I’m being scammed. What do you think, Ms. Vicki?

Sincerely,
Please Tell Me I Am Not Being Scammed

*****

Every one of these letters have markers that show the correspondent is a scammer, not a servicemember. Did you spot these markers? Did I miss any?

  1. Met on a dating site. Lots of military members do use dating sites to meet people in their community. But you should know that bad guys use dating sites, too. They are trolling for women they can scam. If this “servicemember” swears he loves you and wants to marry you before he has even met you, beware. If he asks for money, it is a scam. Report him to the website and stop communicating with him.
  2. Gives an imaginary name. Just because someone you met online gives you a name, rank, duty station or even military ID card, that doesn’t mean that this is a real person. It probably means they just have Photoshop. If they ask for money, it is a scam.
  3. Cannot access his bank account. Military members can access their money from overseas. They pay bills online, buy items from websites and even arrange for car loans. If they ask you for money -- even a loan, this is a scam.
  4. Needs money to come home from down range. During a year-long deployment, servicemembers may be sent home for R&R. Their travel arrangements are made and paid for by the government. If they ask for money, it is a scam.
  5. Commanding officer calls. Commanding officers in the United States military do not call girlfriends, fiancées or family members asking for money. If they ask for money, this is a scam.
  6. Can’t get internet, food or travel money. Servicemembers do not have to pay for internet connections, food or travel expenses etc. while deployed. Even if a servicemember misses a connecting flight, the military takes care of this. If someone you met online claims to be stranded in an airport, do not send them money. If they ask for money, this is a scam.
  7. Claim to be Special Forces. Liars love to claim they are in Delta Force, Army Rangers, Navy Seals or Special Ops. If these individuals really were in special ops, they would never tell you -- never. If they ask for money, this is a scam.
  8. Deployed for three years. Military members can be sent on an unaccompanied tour for a year or two. Deployments in the past have lasted up to fifteen months. Claiming to be deployed for three years is a play for your pity. If they ask for money, this is a scam.
  9. Your family and friends think you are crazy. If your family and friends think this is a scam, it is. These people know you and they are not blinded by love. They know if someone asks you for money, it is a scam.
  10. You suspect this isn’t for real. If you think this person you are talking to online isn’t for real, you are probably right. Trust yourself and stop communicating now before he asks you for money.

Women, please stop being so naïve and gullible. One woman wrote me and said she had given more than $20,000 to a man who is supposedly a servicemember. Afterward, she was a victim of bank fraud and her home was vandalized.

The man she was communicating with knew all of her personal information, including where she lived. This is serious because this woman put her life in jeopardy! She quickly moved to a different location.

The bottom line is that if you are communicating with a "servicemember" who starts asking you for money, don’t pass go. Stop communicating with him immediately.

These scammers are professionals who know just how to tug your heartstrings. They do not give up easily. Block their emails, their Facebook posts, their texts, their phone calls.

Spending your money -- and more importantly the hours of your life -- on a scam artist is not bringing you closer to love. Mark your involvement with a scammer as a mistake and keep a sharp eye out the next time.

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Contributor

Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, has been the Dear Abby for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology.

Ms. Vicki appears regularly on Military.com and in the Fort Campbell Courier. Her column has also appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Looking for advice about your military life? Email Ms. Vicki here. Find Ms. Vicki on Facebook here.  Find Ms. Vicki on Twitter here.

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