I am pleased to introduce you to my new co-hort on catching scammers
As I mentioned in my last post I joined several more scammer pages on facebook. This person contacted me about sharing my blog on his page. And in return I will share his facebook page here.
So I asked him a few questions and he gratuitously answered them. He has been a great resource too. So here we go.
Were you in the military? If so what branch and years were you in? Are you married, do you have kids?
Well, about myself. I'm a 50 something Male, married with two adult children. I am retired Military, (US Marine Corps 1980-2000) originally from the south but now live on the West Coast. I unfortunately am also disabled which means I have a lot of free time on my hands.
How did you get involved starting your facebook about the military scammers?
I got into helping identify Military Romance Scammers as a sideline from also being interested in combating "Stolen Valor" where people claim to have been awarded rank and medals from the military in order to obtain benefits, take from charities or just get their names in the media. We had one lady who was part of our group almost get scammed into sending Walmart Gift cards to a scammer posing as a US Army Sergeant Major. The more I looked into it the more I found out just how bad the problem is. I started a face book page called Stop Fake Military Romance Scammers in 2014. Since then I have answered hundreds of questions from people about profiles on dating sites and on Face Book.
As far as why I consider myself qualified to ID these scammers there are two main reasons. First and foremost I am a retired senior non-commissioned officer who served 20 years. Although there may have been slight changes since I left the service I am familiar in the way that military pay, leave, travel, medical and deployments work as well as most administrative matters Second I have become well versed in the methods that scammers use. They often have practically the same script they use over and over. I always talk with people who contact me and go through what the scammer has sent them. Once in a while I get a new twist that scammers throw in. I try to keep a handy "reference guide" posted on my page and I update it often.
What advice can you women on these scammers?
That's a very complex question. I could probably do a long seminar on the subject matter In order to answer this I would like to break this question down into several sub topics as follows:
1. Who Scammers Target.
2 Who the Scammers are.
3 What type of environment ( country) allows scammers to thrive,
4 Who are the actual Victims of military romance scams.
5. What is a quick way to detect scammer profiles.
6 How the scam plays out.
7 What is a sure way to find out if someone is a Scammer.
8 The delicate issue of nude photos
9 After the scam ends
Who Scammers Target.
As far as a "target group" for these scammers. Military Romance Scams are a subset of the type of scams that are run via the Internet. Although I have had a few cases of men who contact the page ( both straight and gay) the overwhelming number of people who are targeted are women over the age of 40 who are single, divorced or widowed. Although scammers certainly use dating sites they often send Friend request to women on face book with the hopes of getting a response. It's a " scattergun" tactic often used in sales. It may take a hundred friend requests on social media to get a response. Out of those hundred responses maybe 1 may fall into the trap they set. So scammers know they have to "bait" about 1,000 people to get one to send anything. I personally only use face book but I get at least one or two Friend Requests from obvious scammers a week. I'm sure the average person gets the same.
I also would like to add that scamming is an international problem. Close to half the people who contact my page are from nations other than the United States.
Who the Scammers are
As far as who the scammers are it varies little. There are some who actually live in developed countries. Some are just native criminals who see how the scam works and decide to run with it . There are some people in the US that are scammers or accomplices. I've been contacted by victims who have wired or sent money to names and addresses within the US that the scammer says are a relative or agent for them. This does happen but its very risky because if reported and followed up in can result in the person who gets sent the money being charged.
The vast majority of scammers are from West Africa ( Nigeria and Ghana) I came to that conclusion because other than having money wired to offshore accounts practically every address used as a "middleman" for funds supposedly going to a "service member" is a African name and an address in a city in Ghana or Nigeria ( The City of Lagos is a hotbed of scammers).
Scammers are usually young men, but they can vary in age. They are very intelligent and many are university students or well educated.
What type of environment ( country) allows scammers to thrive
Scamming is considered a legitimate profession and totally acceptable in West Africa. These countries are very poor and the attitude is generally that western countries have been exploiting their people and resources for centuries. They see absolutely nothing wrong with theft by deception to get payback. Its part of their culture. It even has religious undertones. "Sakawa" combines the use of primitive type rites and ceremonies and Internet scamming. In Ghana successful "Sakawa Boys" are looked up to the same way that "Gangsta Rappers" were idolized in the US. There are several songs that have been written about them and a series of locally produced movies. There is no moral compass in these movies. The scammers flaunt the lifestyle they obtained through theft and the victims aren't even portrayed. When bad fortune befalls the scammer its not because they are facing legal justice or answering for immoral acts, its because they failed to uphold their part of the "Sakawa" ritual. The Countries of Nigeria and Ghana pay lip service at most to the problem of scammers. Scammers bring in an untold amount of funds into the country. I would estimate its BILLIONS of dollars per year. Politicians and Law enforcement there get their share of this money, either directly or indirectly. Its not in their interest to shut it down. A middle Class Nigerian worker makes about 500 dollars a month while Ghana is 35 dollars a month. A successful scam even if it only gets 100 dollars is a huge amount of money in those countries. A scammer who is able to do that once a week can make more money in a year than a week than most legitimate workers do in a year. Its not an exaggeration to say that a single high value scam can set up a scammer for years.
Who are the actual Victims of military romance scams
The average victim of a scammer falls into the target group I described above. Females 40-60 who are single, divorced or widowed. In addition there are several traits victims share, and I will try to not sound condescending as I list them. Please note that I'm not saying any of this as an insult. The victims are very emotionally vulnerable and like being courted and talked to by someone who shows ( or pretends to show) interest in them. They tend to feel isolated and are reaching out for company. They long to find someone who will accept them for who they are as far as age, looks and body type. They tend to be above average in intelligence, however if they become emotionally involved with a scammer they will start thinking emotionally. They tend to use the internet a lot for social interaction rather than putting themselves on the dating scene in public. They feel it is more efficient to narrow down the search for that special someone before meeting them in person. They are open to long distance relationships with the hope that it will end with them being together with that "special someone". They are not looking for any type of casual hookups or one night stands. They are in it for the long haul, and are willing to sacrifice a lot to get to meet "that special guy". This is something that is tailor made for a scammer to exploit.
What is a quick way to detect scammer profiles
Identifying what a typical military scammer profile looks like is a key to stopping it before it starts. First and foremost Scammers use pictures stolen from photogenic service members. One thing that stands out is scammer profiles tend to be very basic and have only a few photos and entries on the time line and very few friends if any. The biggest thing is they will usually claim to be overseas in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa.
HINT: US service members never claim to be stationed in those places that is where they may DEPLOY to. Service Members are STATIONED in a Fort (Army) Camp (Marines) Air Base(Air Force) or Naval Station( Navy in the continental United States or in places such as Germany or Korea
If they have any hometown it will usually be in a popular state, such as New York, California, Texas, Etc, They will claim to be a Sergeant or an Officer and will say they attended a popular University or a service academy such as West Point or the US Army War College.
HINT: Only officers attend West Point and only Senior Officers go to the US Army War College
One thing that I often find is because ethnic African names don't follow the same patterns as Western ones they will often combine and go by two surnames, such as Anderson Johnson, Williams Roberts, Smith Jones, etc.
How the scam plays out
The scam usually plays out in the following manner, I will go over this and also tell you why the story is total horse pucky. After the initial contact the scammer will quickly open up and tell you a great bit of personal information about himself, all scripted of course. He will give you a hard luck story about how he lost his parents, and if married his wife died of cancer or in an accident or divorced him after cheating on him. He may say he is a single parent with a special needs child being looked after at a boarding school or a nanny. He may claim to be foreign born to explain his poor grammar.
HINT: by doing this he can explain why he has no relatives or friends actually living in the US something that is totally opposite of the truth of US service members.
Once he has gotten the attention ( and sympathy) of the victim the scammer will start in with the romance games. The scammer will say he wants to meet that "someone special" and settle down. They will play to the Victims emotions and start telling them how nice and sweet they are and start sending them romantic poems and song lyrics and lay it on thick, He likes long walks holding hands, candlelight dinners where he cooks for them. The man is just too good to be true. Once he gets the victim to fall for the spiel he starts setting the hook. He insists that as soon as he can he is coming "home" to see his "true love". Once the victim is happily waiting for "her dream man" to " come home" the scammer will start having money issues or need things such as a phone card or even a phone to call on. Also he may ask for money for food or medical needs or clothing or to take care of bills he has because he has no access to his pay.
Hint: Service members that are deployed are fed clothed and all medical care is provided by the military. They also have full access to their pay and can meet any financial obligations they have.
Once the scammer starts getting the victim to send funds and knows he has them deeply involved he will start getting more creative. He will say that his "command" requires that he gets a clearance to put you on a "Fiance" list so you can continue communicating with him. He will also say that he will need you to fill out a "Leave Request Form" a "Travel and Baggage Claim form" and will also ask for you to pay for " Travel Arrangements". This is all so he can talk to and come home to his " True love". The scammer, or his "Commanding Officer" will send Emails with official looking forms attached for you to fill out and send back. There is often a "fee" that has to be paid in conjunction with it.
HINT: There is absolutely no such thing as "Fiance Benefits" or "Approved Contact Lists" Also any type of leave or travel or transportation needs absolutely no requests or approval from anyone besides the Service Member and his immediate Command. Any type of paperwork for leave or travel is internal and a service members travel and luggage arrangements are arranged and funded by the military, using military or chartered airlines. The "Official Forms" are complete fabrication using copied letterheads and military like jargon to appear real
The scammer may also use tried and true methods to con the victim out of more funds. They may say they are sending a package with valuable items ( jewelry, money or gold) their unit found while "raiding an ISIS headquarters and decided to keep. They will say its worth a huge amount of money and they need you to pay a " fee" to get it through customs, of course the customs "agent" is either an offshore bank or an address in Nigeria or Ghana. They will even send photos of "the package" and "Customs tag" with your name and address on it. If you do send money to get the " package" the scammer will keep contacting you, sometimes posing as a " customs agent" or Interpol saying there is a problem with the tag and requesting even more money. If you don't send it they may say that you can be charged as an accomplice and arrested, all in hopes of getting more money from you.
HINT: As you might guess by now, there never is a package and the picture is a generic photo copied with your info pasted on to it. It never exited. There is no customs or police investigation, just a scammer trying to milk you dry.
The Scam plays out when the victim finally realizes the "Soldier" she fell for is never coming, and has bilked her out of everything she can send. Once the victim firmly states she has nothing else the scammer will become either " upset" because she doesn't love him and try to convince her to beg, steal or borrow to get even more money. The Scammer will continue this cycle over and over.
Conclusion: What I laid out is the absolute worse scenario. Often the victim will realize after they have sent money that they are dealing with a scammer and things will end. Victims I have spoken to have lost anywhere from 150 to 100,000 dollars. Even with the low dollar amounts the victims have suffered through a lot of emotional trauma. More than once I have to talk them out of harming themselves or taking other drastic action.
What is a sure way to find out if someone is a Scammer
As for methods to immediately know if someone is a scammer there are several ways that I as a retired military member can see through their fake stories. I can't really pass 20 years experience to someone in a paragraph or two, and scammers certainly have the ability to google enough information to sound legitimate to someone who has never served. They often have a spiel about what their rank, job title and duties are, all copied from easily accessible internet sources.
First a scammer will not agree to call or skype with you. They will give the excuse that its not allowed for security reasons. Using logic, if they were involved in some high security type of deployment they wouldn't be allowed to use the internet or phone to talk to a complete stranger either. Deployed service members don't spend their entire deployment locked in mortal combat with ISIS. They have "down time" in which they are able to go to a secure base, clean up equipment, take showers, do laundry and relax. There are small post exchanges there where they can purchase health items, plus small electronics and there are places to get burgers, fries, etc. They also have internet access and buildings with a large amount of phones in it. They can purchase or use phone cards and often can call for no charge at all. I will add that there are ATM machines and check cashing places in these rear areas. In short if you are contacted by a real service member via internet they should be able to at a minimum call you. If they are messaging they can simply walk to the next building and call.
In line with that a scammer will not be able to provide you with a photograph that you have him strike a certain pose in or holding up a hand written note. They have are only able to copy a few photos of a service member off the internet and chances are none of them are the pose you pic. Be aware that in some cases a scammer will find a photo of a service member holding up an object and photo shop letters and dates in it. Usually this is easily detected if you enlarge the photo.
One last easy tip is that a scammer will not be able to provide you with a military address to send him anything. The scammer will insist than other than transferring funds overseas to an anonymous account, the only other way to get him items is through am "agent" in you guessed it,, Nigeria or Ghana. I would like to add that sometimes the scammer may be in the US or use an accomplice here, and they will say that person is a relative. US service members deployed overseas use the military mail system. Every piece of mail or package goes through an APO (Army Post Office) if they are Army or Air Force or an FPO (Fleet Post Office) if they are Navy or Marine Corps. There is NO exception to this rule. They will never be a foreign address or country indicated. Here are a few examples of deployed Military addresses.
Capt John Doeunit 45013 Box 2666
APO AP 96338
Sgt James Smith2 Cav Div A Co 1st Plt
APO AE 09388
CPO Jay BallUSS Dakota
FPO AE 09565.
If you noticed the zip codes in those addresses are close to zip codes in San Francisco and New York, which are locations where Military Post Offices are that process mail overseas. A scammer will not use these addresses if he wants to receive anything from you.
One last tip is to do a Google Image search on the photos the scammer is using. In many cases scam alert sites may have these images as being used by several different scammer profiles.
The delicate issue of nude photos
As far as nude photos often scammers will convince their victim to send explicit photos of themselves. This can be embarrassing but victims need to realize its water under the bridge. The worst thing about it is that scammers will threaten to "publish" them and try to blackmail the victim. This is always a bluff and just an attempt to squeeze out more money from the Victim.
After the scam ends
After someone realizes they have been scammed or are simply being targeted there are several steps to take.
The first is come to grips with the fact that you will NOT get your money back. Its the same as if you dropped cash in a street of a crowded city and didn't realize it until the next day.
If you feel your bank account or credit card info may have been comprised alert the companies and get new cards and account numbers. ( I've not heard of this happening in MRS's but it is a possibility.
The second is to report the scammer profile to the site you met them on and block all contact. You may want to consider creating a new profile or email account and deleting the old ones. The same with your phone. Changing all of these may seem extreme but the thing to realize is that the scammer who you were dealing with knows them. While you are onto his one fake profile he may have several others he will contact you on. Perhaps with a totally different type of scam. One thing I have noted is that victims are sometimes contacted by someone claiming to be a "Scam Recovery Agent" who will say they can get all your money back. They will ask for details and say they are on to who scammed you and are ready to arrest them and recover what you lost. Of course there will be an "Official Report Form" to fill out... and a fee that must be sent to.. you guessed it Nigeria.
Another thing to do is to report this to your local PD. Gather whatever receipts you have and make them take a report. While it may seem embarrassing its important that figures and statistics on these crimes be bought to law enforcement's attention at all levels. Get your story out, even if you remain anonymous.
One last thing is to NOT become obsessed with the real service member in the stolen images. I have run into this in way to many cases. The victim of the scam says they want to find the "real" soldier and warn them. Reading between the lines I know the real reason is that they have fallen for the man in the picture and want to contact them in hopes of actually connecting. While scammers may use pictures of high ranking officers ( Generals) that are easily found on Wikipedia a large number of images are not traceable. I do not attempt to find them and neither should the victim for several reasons. First the service members privacy has already been violated and he may have already been contacted several times already. If he is in a relationship the last thing he needs is having to explain to his partner why he keeps getting contacted by women from dating sites. Delete the photos and move on.
Who is the person on your military scammer facebook cover?
I'm glad you asked that question. That person is one of the reasons I started the page. He is not a military romance scammer in the sense that he is not a Nigerian who scams victims into sending money overseas. His name is Dennis Howard Chevalier and he lives in the Dallas Fort Worth area. He was exposed by the Stolen Valor Community about 4 years ago for claiming to be a USAF Lt Col Pilot and Veteran of Desert Storm. While uncovering his lies about his service we uncovered that he had been married 6 times and uses dating sites and lies about his military service, being a Police Officer and a Doctor in Forensic Psychology to pick up women on the internet.
His method is to quickly get who he is dating to marry him then take control of their assets and lives and use them while emotionally abusing them. He has been married and divorced twice more since he was first exposed for a total of 8 times.
If I come across a case of stolen valor where a person acts like he does I will post their information on my page. Because of face book's rules I blacked out his face, but if you look back on my page I have him and three others that I profiled in case women in the US get contacted by them on a dating site. In his case, it actually worked, I had a woman contact me who had met him through a dating site and thought there was something off about him. I was able to tell her his story and she googled him and dodged the bullet
Thank you very much for asking me about my page and what I do. Please contact the page at any time if you have any Questions