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Victim: Be Skeptical When You Meet a 'Soldier' Online

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I met a guy online on a dating site. I live in Australia, and his profile said he lived in Australia, too. We started communicating, and I was suspicious when he said he was a U.S. soldier in Iraq about to retire. I refused to communicate any further until we used Skype so I could see him in real time.

We starting Skyping, but I never heard him speak. He said his computer was bad and due to security he wasn't allowed to use the microphone. That didn't worry me, and our relationship blossomed. We Skyped every day, while I had coffee and during my commute. I was really falling for this guy.

It was about two weeks after we met that he said he was going on a new mission and wasn't able to take his two suitcases, which he said contained all his valuables, with him. He was stressed and didn't know what to do. He asked if I could look after them, as he said he had worked hard all his life for everything in those suitcases. I agreed.

He gave me an email address for a company that he said handles shipping packages from dangerous places. I contacted these people and they responded quickly, saying that I needed my friend's address and details in Iraq. They also said I had to pay $2,200 upfront in shipping costs, with the balance to be paid by my friend when their agents got to Iraq to pick up the suitcases. I did this, and the suitcases were picked up (supposedly) and transported. I had the transport notice to say they were on their way.

This is when all the problems started.

The suitcases never arrived to me in Australia. I was sent emails saying they were held up in Schiphol, The Netherlands, because taxes had to be paid. The suitcases contained 1 million Euros in cash and gold (supposedly). I was then told that I must send 38,000 Euros to have them cleared through customs.

Of course, this was impossible. I negotiated with a guy over the phone to tell them I would be flying to Schiphol to bring the suitcases back to Australia myself. They agreed that I could do this but, of course, for a fee of 7,400 Euros. I had to pay 3,700 Euros in advance and the balance of 3,700 Euros could come from the funds in the suitcase.

I arrived there and handed over the 3,700 Euros, only to be told I was unable to bring the bags back because the money needed to be "cleaned."I was shown a $100 U.S. bill from the suitcase, which was supposedly cleaned and washed in front of me, and I was allowed to keep it. I flew back to Sydney, and when I arrived home, I received an email saying that I must fly back to The Netherlands with 38,500 Euros to buy oil to clean all the U.S. dollars. This has been an ongoing saga.

I contacted my local police and also the Dutch police. The U.S. soldier I have not heard from since Christmas day when I told him I was going to have the matter investigated.

The scammers -- I now realize that this was all a scam -- are still in contact with me. I told them I would come back to The Netherlands again, but that I was done playing their game. The Australian police said it's a hard case, would be very time consuming for them and probably will not result in success. As I lost only around $8,000 Australian, they said they don't have the budget to investigate. The Dutch police told me the same.

I emailed the scammers today to say that I had terrible news -- that my friend in Iraq was killed in action and the suitcases must be handed over to the Dutch authorities as I'm not the next of kin, I'm just a girl he met online. I also told them their numbers have been handed to Dutch police, which is true.

The Australian detective I spoke to said I should go on blogs, expose these people and make it as public as possible. Unfortunately, I fell for the charm and for the love of this so-called military guy.

-- Tried to Help a Military Man

Dear Tried to Help,

These criminals are a well-regimented army taking financial and emotional advantage of many people. I know you lost a lot of money with this scam, but I'm thankful you didn't lose your life.

The sad truth is that every week I receive about 30 letters like yours, so many that I cannot answer all of them. The largest amount of money a woman said she paid out was about $30,000.

No matter how many times I warn people not to get involved with these criminals, women will still write me believing somehow that the so-called U.S. military man they met online is different.

Women report their bank accounts have been wiped out, their homes have been burglarized and they have even received death threats.

If I were you, I would change every password and all of my contact information. If you are on Facebook, Twitter, Skype or any other social networking site, please change all of your information for your own good. Thank you for alerting me. Take care.

-- Ms. Vicki

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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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