Members of the U.S. Armed Forces are now the target of a new enemy: internet criminals. Military service members are being impacted by con-artists operating online in more ways than one. On one hand, scammers are increasingly creating fake profiles on online dating sites and social networking sites to scam unsuspecting victims. Such profiles often assume the identity of a real soldier, or steal the identity of a real person, making it very hard for the victim to verify. Scammers are also targeting soldiers directly via phishing emails, foreclosure scams and other types fraud. The problem has gotten the attention of high command.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, for military consumers identity theft was the number one complaint category in the Consumer Sentinel Network report for 2013, followed by impostor scams at number two. Foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams ranked as the seventh highest category for military members, in contrast to seventeenth highest for the population as a whole. Clearly, online criminals are targeting service men and women and see the group as a profitable niche.
Identity theft is a continuous risk for soldiers because it provides a believable way for scammers to back up their stories: they are away from home in a faraway land, with Internet connection problems, they´re lonely and unable to access certain goods, they depend on a bad mail service to deliver their checks, etc. Victims of online romance scams find themselves moved by the fact that a lonely soldier is having a hard time, and agree –or even offer – to help in any way they can before verifying the facts.
Romance is not the only tactic used. Fraudsters use soldiers’ identities to contact people by email and state they are having trouble to get back home. Victims often feel obliged to help a man or woman who is serving the country and has been abandoned, after all, who wouldn’t? Sometimes it’s their “children” or other family members who are experiencing some kind of hardship and they need financial assistance. Many of the online scammers are located in West Africa and Eastern Europe. But, investigators caution today’s line of internet crooks can come from anywhere, even right down the road in a neighborhood near you.
To lower the risk, experts agree knowledge of the warning signs are important, and background check investigations continue to be an effective tool in fraud and scam prevention.
Military members and internet users can stay safe by:
If you meet someone online claiming to be a soldier, take the time to verify.
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