Scammer Impersonates Four-Star Army General in Online Romance Hoax

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In this Jan. 29, 2019, file photo, National Security Agency director and head of U.S. Cyber Command Gen. Paul Nakasone testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
In this Jan. 29, 2019, file photo, National Security Agency director and head of U.S. Cyber Command Gen. Paul Nakasone testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

A cyber criminal recently impersonated the commander of U.S. cyber operations in an attempt to draw women into a romance scam.

Gen. Paul Nakasone, the director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, is one of two Army four-stars whose names appeared on social media in false email conversations with women, according to a recent story on cyberscoop.com.

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In early May, scammers used a Facebook account under the name of "George Lyons" that contained photos of Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of U.S. Transportation Command, to talk with at least two women, according to cyberscoop.

Then, a Gmail user posing as Nakasone contacted one of the women and claimed to be in Syria, where he spent his days on patrol, cyberscoop reported. The impostor then inundated the woman with religious messages and requests to download Google Hangouts so they could correspond further.

The individual posing as Lyons continued to email one of the women with requests to download Google Hangouts as well, according to cyberscoop.

Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Chris Grey told Military.com, "Scams like this happen quite frequently."

"We are aware of this issue and are monitoring the situation," Grey said in a statement. "Typically, Army officials work with the various media platforms to remove the material where these impostors post their criminal scams."

CYBERCOM spokeswoman Madalyn Gainey told Military.com that the command had nothing further to add to Grey's statement on the issue.

TRANSCOM spokesman Dave Dunn told Military.com his organization "became aware of the specific false account noted in the [cyberscoop] article upon its publication, so we are unable to discuss any details of that particular incident."

"This year, we have already reported 15-20 such accounts to social media platforms for removal, including three in the past week," Dunn said in a statement to Military.com. "It is all too common for unscrupulous actors to exploit others by impersonating persons with public profiles, and military leaders are unfortunately not immune from this form of identity theft."

The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 467,361 complaints about internet-enabled crime in 2019 and recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses to individual and business victims, according to FBI.gov.

"Criminals are getting so sophisticated ... it is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake," Donna Gregory, the chief of IC3, said in a recent article on FBI.gov about the 2019 Internet Crime Report.

Email is still a common entry point, but frauds are also beginning on text messages -- a crime called smishing -- or even fake websites -- a tactic called pharming, according to the article on FBI.gov.

"You may get a text message that appears to be your bank asking you to verify information on your account," Gregory said. "Or you may even search a service online and inadvertently end up on a fraudulent site that gathers your bank or credit card information."

And this is not the first time someone has impersonated an Army general.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command, has had his identity used to set up false profiles on social media.

Evidence of Townsend's identity being misused started to show up in 2014 on tip reports by anti-scam websites such as Scamlot.com.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Army Leaders Warn Soldiers to Watch for Foreign Agents Lurking on Twitter

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