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Military Scams: A Growing Threat in a Digital World

Posted On   date25/03/2014

Military Scams: A Growing Threat in a Digital World

Picture the life of a soldier in a mission overseas. It´s a bit of a cliché, but part of what we have learned from movies is to visualize soldiers as sad and lonely characters, seeking for love and always willing to help and give their lives for others.  And, reality isn’t far from the perception.  Soldiers are great people who serve their country, and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice.  They are known for their honesty and their patriotism, and they deserve our respect.  The problem now is that internet criminals are using this reputation to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.  Military scams are now a major problem on online dating and social networking sites.  If you’re meeting people on the Internet, you could be a victim.

When you put this in context, you´ll find why military scams have the perfect formula. Criminals around the world, but especially those located in high risk countries for fraud like Ghana and Nigeria, are profiting off of U.S. citizens under the guise of patriotism. Many pose as military members on online dating sites and social networks and establish online romantic relationships. Others use different approaches like emails requesting for help to get back home.  The bottom line, they want to gain your trust, your sympathy, and then steal your information and money.  And in some cases, they may even assume the identity of a real soldier.

In the meantime, real U.S. soldiers are suffering from identity theft and other kinds of fraud. Most of the pictures and information used in fake profiles come from legitimate soldiers serving (or who have served) overseas. This makes military scams more believable and less likely to be spotted. The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and other organizations have posted warnings about military scams, making an effort to control it through prevention.  That’s how bad the situation has become.

How do scammers manage to use someone else´s identity and photos and then receive money under someone else´s name? And, how do they manage to make the victim send money to another country when they´re claiming to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq?  And why are there  more and more victims despite the fact that the public is more aware of the risk for romance scams?  The answer is quite simple.  These are experienced con artists who target victims full time.  They are good at what they do.

Scammers use very good stories and take their time getting to know you and gaining your trust. They slowly gather your data, and may even try to blackmail you if the opportunity presents itself.  Nude photos or video chat are perfect for criminals to use for blackmail, as they threaten to send the images or video to your whole family or co-workers.   Protect your privacy and private data, and don’t share your date of birth, address, ID or documents with anyone you have not met in person.  Internet scams can be very complex.

These are 2 basic tips from Wymoo investigators:

  1. If you really are an American soldier, please be very careful about what you share online. Try to avoid uploading pictures in a uniform, double check your privacy settings on every social network, share little to no information about yourself online. Scammers are constantly looking for soldiers who can provide the profile picture and life story to go with it, so don’t let your identity be used by a criminal.  The less information about you on the internet, the safer you and your family members are.
  2. If you met someone online who claims to be in the military, open your eyes. Of course there are a lot of great men serving in Afghanistan or somewhere else who use online dating sites, but the mere fact that this is an increasing fraud scheme should be enough to raise a red flag. If this person requests financial assistance for any reason, then you definitely need a dating background check.

Military scams as well as any other Internet scams are in most cases unable to be traced or prosecuted. Scammers frequently use cyber cafes and even if they didn´t these cases have to be handed over to the country where the crime originated, making things more difficult.  Most con-artists operate from developing countries where courts and law enforcement are corrupt and inefficient, and they are not equipped to go after these types of criminals.  Internet users’ best defense is education and prevention.

Have you met a soldier online?  Be safe and verify!

C. Wright
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