Finding a military romance scam is common, I told the woman named Carol who had messaged me early on a recent Sunday morning; many service members have their photos stolen.
"Yet did your husband know this when he scammed me?" she asked.
I'm pretty used to my Army husband's photo being stolen for romance scams. I had foolishly made public on Facebook photos of him in uniform a long time ago, and failed to go back and lock them down. Now "he" is the face of many romance scams, along with a whole parade of other unsuspecting service members.
This wasn't the first time one of "his" victims has found and messaged me. Once, someone messaged to tell me my husband was romancing her on Tinder. There was plenty of evidence to prove it wasn't really him (including that when "he" had messaged we'd both been on an island off the coast of Florida without cell signal or computers), and I managed to talk her off a ledge.
But Carol was at least temporarily convinced that this military romance scam runner, who had taken her for $5,000, really was my husband.
"He got $5,300.00 from me and God only knows how much he got from other single women. I have seen pictures of him and your children. He promised to pay me back."
I think I managed to convince her that the person who was scamming her was a photo thief, not my husband, just like I did the last time. A few days later she sent me another message with a link to a profile of a man using my husband's photo on his page (swiped from a public page for an organization with which volunteer), but this as his profile photo (not a photo of my husband -- or anything like him).
This person -- or person pretending to be a person -- was trying to tell people he is a US Army Sgt. What?
His profile, since removed, said he is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed in Detroit -- just like every fake profile I've ever seen that uses my husband's likeness. Why anyone would believe that the above is someone in the Army is beyond me.
I know I'm not the only one who has dealt with this kind of military romance scam. But ...
If you're accidentally involved in a military romance scam, is there anything you can do?
"We highly encourage people to protect their social media -- we see time and time again where social media accounts are wide open," said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). "And we encourage them to report it to the internet crime center with the FBI."
Beyond that, Grey said, there isn't much troops, their families or the military can do.
Grey and other Army CID officials warned in a recent press release that they often see an uptick in these types of scams right before Valentine's Day.
"To date, there has not been one report to Army CID indicating that a U.S. Soldier has been criminally involved or suffered any financial loss as a result of these attacks," he said. "Photographs and actual names of U.S. Soldiers have been the only thing used. On the contrary, victims have lost thousands of dollars. One victim went so far as to refinance her house to help out her new beau, in the end she lost more than $70,000."
Troops who have had their photos stolen or names used to set up a fake account can also report the account to whatever social media platform is being used.
For someone who is being scammed, there are a few additional steps to take, Grey said, beyond reporting the scam to the FBI crime center.
They can report any theft involved in the scam to the Federal Trade Commission and they can report the fraud specifically to the Federal Trade Commission on Nigerian Scams by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.