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Fake Service Members Are Scamming Civilians And The Army Isn't Having It
It’s a story as old as the internet itself: Boy meets girl, girl falls for boy, boy asks girl to wire him thousands of dollars and then vanishes off the face of the earth forever. Well, at least that’s the experience many people have had since the rise of internet dating and the online scams that have followed. By far one of the most successful schemes involves American service members. Well, not real ones. But people pretending to be them.
The process is pretty simple. A scammer — usually from West Africa — poses as a deployed American soldier in search of love. Make no mistake about it, these guys are professionals. Well before stalking their victims, they meticulously meld online images of real soldiers with fake names and personalities. They even create social media accounts and other various online footprints to ensure their aliases are as realistic and attractive as possible. After being matched with an interested party, these con artists slowly reel in their prey with affectionate messages of passion and desire. Once the target is hooked and believes he or she is in a real, full-fledged relationship with an American service member, the scammers goes in for the kill, asking for thousands of dollars at a time to help address a personal crisis or material need.
You’re probably wondering how anyone could fall for something like this, but it’s actually quite simple. Dating websites like Match.com and eHarmony have normalized the experience of igniting an e-romance before actually meeting someone, and it’s only gotten easier with the invention of mobile apps like Tinder, Zoosk, and countless others. Given these circumstances, it’s clear why the many people seeking love online are obvious targets for predators. Once hackers throw in a photo of an American soldier — and all the fantasies associated with a strong, brave person halfway across the world — it’s an easy sell.
This tactic is highly effective and has cost victims hundreds of thousands of dollars according to Chris Grey, Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesperson.
"It is very troubling to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met," Grey said in a recent Army press release. "We cannot stress enough that people need to stop sending money to persons they meet on the Internet [who] claim to be in the U.S. military."
The Army isn’t alone in this fight. Many victims have joined forces to combat romance scams and forewarn potential future targets. One of the most popular websites for victims of past scams, romancescam.com, provides users with a suite of tools for identifying potential predators, including an IP checker and a scam test to determine if your beau is who they say there. There are also plenty of online communities on social media for past, present, and potential victims, including the Facebook page for Military Romances, which issues frequent “fraud alerts” when they’re notified another hacker has struck gold.
It’s easy to feel bad for the victims here — how could you not? — but there’s something else at stake, too: the security and privacy of our soldiers’ identities. After all, every fake profile is created using a real soldier’s picture. According to Grey, this not only harms the reputation of the individual service member, but the reputation of the military as a whole. “We don't want victims walking away and thinking that a U.S. soldier has ripped them off, when in fact that soldier is honorably serving his or her country and often not even aware that his pictures or identity have been stolen,” he explained.
But it could be worse. Israeli soldiers have reportedly been falling for similar “honey traps” laid by Hamas, allowing the Palestinian fundamentalist group to hack their phones to access their cameras and microphones while posing as young, beautiful women on dating apps. Although Israel’s intelligence community claims no major military secrets were divulged, it’s an international embarrassment and a jarring reminder of how love can blind people — especially over the internet.
Crime never sleeps, but it definitely has seasons. With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, Grey and the Army CID aren’t taking any chances. Along with its efforts to alert people about this enduring issue, the Army has provided tips for identifying potential scammers and is urging anyone who suspects they’re being swindled to contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Their most important piece of advice: “Don’t ever send money!”
Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)
Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.
Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.
75 years ago, Audie Murphy earned his Medal of Honor with nothing but a burning tank destroyer's .50 cal and insane bravery
Editor's note: a version of this post first appeared in 2018
On January 26, 1945, the most decorated U.S. service member of World War II earned his legacy in a fiery fashion.
Florida senators are pushing for Purple Hearts for service members wounded in the NAS Pensacola shooting
Florida's two senators are pushing the Defense Department to award Purple Hearts to the U.S. service members wounded in the December shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The Navy Department is in the middle of a new force-structure review, which could change the number and types of ships the sea services say they'll need to fight future conflicts. But instead of trying to project what they will need three decades out, which has been the case in past assessments, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the services will take a shorter view.
"I don't know what the threat's going to be 30 years from now, but if we're building a force structure for 30 years from now, I would suggest we're probably not building the right one," he said Friday at a National Defense Industrial Association event.
The Navy completed its last force-structure assessment in 2016. That 30-year plan called for a 355-ship fleet.
When Oscar Jesus Temores showed up to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story each day, his colleagues in base security knew they were in for a treat.
Temores was a master-at-arms who loved his job and cracking corny jokes.
"He just he just had that personality that you can go up to him and talk to him about anything. It was goofy and weird, and he always had jokes," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Lopez, a fellow base patrolman. "Sometimes he'd make you cry from laughter and other times you'd just want to cringe because of how dumb his joke was. But that's what made him more approachable and easy to be around."
That ability to make others laugh and put people at ease is just one of the ways Temores is remembered by his colleagues. It has been seven weeks since the 23-year-old married father of one was killed when a civilian intruder crashed his pickup truck into Temores' vehicle at Fort Story.