Are you dating or talking online to someone who says they are a military member? Have they asked you for funds or documents? You might be looking for true love, but chances are good that you are the victim of one of thousands of military romance scams conducted every day.
U.S. military officials have warned those involved in online dating to proceed with caution when corresponding with someone claiming to be a U.S. military member serving in Syria, Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Officials and websites like Military.com receive hundreds of questions or allegations a month from victims who state they got involved in an online relationship with someone who claims to be in the U.S. military but started asking for money for various false service-related needs such as transportation costs; communication fees; or marriage, processing or medical fees.
Victims of these online scams often think they are doing a good deed by helping a military member. Instead, they have given their money to a scammer, sometimes losing thousands of dollars, with very low possibility of recovery.
The U.S. has established numerous task forces to deal with this growing epidemic. Unfortunately, the people committing these scams are often overseas -- using untraceable email addresses, routing accounts through numerous locations around the world and utilizing pay-per-hour Internet cyber cafes.
Are you being scammed? Here's how to know.
Military Romance Scams: What to Look For
There are a variety of words and phrases used by scammers to hook unsuspecting men and women into relationships. Here are some examples:
- They say they are on a "peacekeeping" mission.
- They say they are looking for an honest woman.
- They note that their parents, wife or husband is deceased.
- They say they have a child or children being cared for by a nanny or other guardian.
- They profess their love almost immediately.
- They refer to you as "my love," "my darling" or any other affectionate term almost immediately.
- They tell you they cannot wait to be with you.
- They tell you they cannot talk on the phone or via webcam for security reasons.
- They tell you they are sending you something (money, jewelry) through a diplomat.
- They claim to be in the U.S. military; however, their English and grammar do not match that of someone born and raised in the United States.
Military Romance Scams: Common Questions
Scammers tend to use similar stories to convince men and women that they have a legitimate need. Military.com regularly receives questions about these claims. Here are common answers to those questions:
- Military members and their loved ones are not charged money so that they can go on leave.
- No one is required to request leave on behalf of a military member.
- A general officer will not correspond with you on behalf of military personnel planning to take leave.
- A general officer will not be a member of an internet dating site.
- Military members are not charged money or taxes to secure communications or leave.
- Military members do not need permission to get married.
- Military members do not have to pay for early retirement.
- All military personnel have medical insurance for themselves and their immediate family members (spouse and/or children), which pays for their medical costs when treated at health care facilities worldwide. Family and friends do not need to pay their medical expenses.
- Military aircraft are not used to transport privately owned vehicles.
- Military financial offices are not used to help military personnel buy or sell items of any kind.
- Member of the military deployed to combat zones do not need to solicit money from the public to feed or house their troops.
- Deployed military personnel do not find large sums of money and do not need your help to get that money out of the country.
Military Romance Scams: How to Avoid Them
You can avoid being taken for a ride by a military romance scam artist by practicing a few easy habits.
Never send money. Be extremely suspicious if you are asked for money for transportation costs, communication fees or marriage processing and medical fees via Western Union.
Do your research. If you do start an Internet-based relationship with someone, check them out. Research what they are telling you with someone who would know, such as a current or former service member.
Communicate by phone. Be very suspicious if you never get to actually speak with the person on the phone or are told you cannot write or receive letters in the mail. Servicemen and women serving overseas will often have an APO or FPO mailing address. Internet or not, service members always appreciate a letter in the mail.
Fact-check. Many of the negative claims made about the military and the supposed lack of support and services provided to troops overseas are far from reality. Check the facts.
Don't use a third party. Be very suspicious if you are asked to send money or ship property to a third party or company. Often, the company exists but has no idea or is not a part of the scam.
Watch for African countries. Be very suspicious if the person you are corresponding with wants you to mail anything to an African country. While some U.S. troops are stationed there, they are few and far between. Someone claiming to be in a place where we have few troops is suspect. Many scams originate in Nigeria.
Watch for grammar. Be aware of common spelling, grammatical or language errors in the emails.
Be guarded. Be very suspicious of someone you have never met and who pledges their love at warp speed.
Military Romance Scams: How to Get Help
How do you get help if you are the victim of a romance scam or think you have found a scammer posing as a military member?
Unfortunately, if you've given money to a scammer, you're unlikely to get it back since scammers are often located overseas and are untraceable.
You can, however, report it.
You can report the theft to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) (FBI-NW3C Partnership) on its website.
You can also report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the United States in their investigations. Report it online or by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT.
Finally, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission on Nigerian Scams by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.