CID warns of 'Internet romance scams'

by Drew Brooks
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C

Fort Bragg is home to the nation's largest population of troops.

And sometimes, those troops are unwitting pawns in schemes to defraud the public.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command, commonly known as CID, is warning the public to be wary of so-called "Internet romance scams."

"With millions of Americans turning to the Internet for love and companionship, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command warns of romance scams and impersonation fraud that drains one both emotionally and financially," officials said.

The CID said in a release that cyber criminals often pose as soldiers or senior Army officers and non-commissioned officers.

"The criminals often post official Army photographs and biographies in an attempt to build trust with their victims and lure them out of personal and financial information," officials said.

Not even Fort Bragg's commanders are safe from having their likeness used to defraud.

Searches on social media revealed several accounts claiming to be Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, or Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps.

According to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, online romance scams cost victims more than $82 million in the last half of 2014 alone. The average loss was between $15,000 and $20,000.

According to CID, perpetrators pose as soldiers or senior leaders who claim to be serving overseas and, through personal, intimate conversations, gain the trust of their victims before manipulating them into sending money.

"Tactics used by cyber criminals include preying on their victim's emotions and appealing to their sense of empathy and patriotism," officials said.

"We cannot stress enough that people need to stop sending money to persons they meet on the Internet and claim to be in the U.S. military," said Chris Grey, a CID spokesman. "It is heartbreaking to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met and sometimes have never even spoken to on the phone."

Most of the fake accounts claim to be soldiers serving in combat zones or West African countries.

They claim to need money for medical care, travel back to the U.S. or to help their children.

"These thieves are very good at what they do. They manipulate the emotions of their victims and will make claims about Army regulations that the public does not know are incorrect," Grey said. "The majority of the time, the service member is not even aware their name and photo is being used in this way."

CID officials offered the following tips:

Be suspicious if you are asked for money for transportation costs, communication fees or marriage processing and medical fees. Never send money.

If you start an Internet-based relationship with someone, research what the person is telling you with someone who would know, such as a current or former service member.

Be suspicious if you never actually speak with the person on the phone or are told you cannot write or receive letters in the mail. Even soldiers overseas often have mailing addresses.

Be suspicious if you are asked to send money or ship property to a third party or company.

Be aware of common spelling, grammatical or language errors in emails.


©2015 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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