What is the easiest thing in the world to lose but the hardest to get back? Trust. However, when it comes to dating, trust is a major component. This can be especially true when it comes to meeting and dating someone in the military online. But how do you avoid becoming a victim of a military dating scam when they are so convincing?
How to Avoid a Military Dating Scam
Earlier this year I reported on another dangerous dating scam—catfishing. Military dating scams are very similar to other dating scams—like catfishing—in their approach. However, they have very effective mechanisms built in that other scams do not.
For example, they key in on the fact that most civilians do not know military protocol. Also, they allow the scammer to use the fact that most military personnel are deployed and unable to meet in person. They also take advantage of the gratitude their mark might feel for their service. Not to mention the list of things they can ask for that may sound completely legit to an unsuspecting civilian.
According to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID), it receives hundreds of complaints a month from victims of a military romance scam. Likewise, the FBI indicates that Americans lost close to $1 billion to romance scams in 2021.
Although the United States has numerous task force organizations to deal with this, there’s a very low possibility of recovering your money. This is because most of these scams are from African countries and utilize techniques that make them hard to trace. For example, they use untraceable email addresses, route accounts through numerous locations, and use pay-per-hour internet cyber cafes.
For this reason, the CID put out this notice, “Army CID is warning anyone who is involved in online dating to proceed with caution when corresponding with persons claiming to be U.S. Soldiers currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or elsewhere.”
What to Look for in a Military Dating Scam
Although avoidance is the best policy, sometimes life happens. For this reason, it’s a good idea to know what to look for to spot a military romance scam. Military.com has a good list of warning signs:
- They say they are on a “peacekeeping” mission.
- They say they are looking for an honest woman.
- They note that their parents, wife or husband is deceased.
- They say they have a child or children being cared for by a nanny or other guardian.
- They profess their love almost immediately.
- They refer to you as “my love,” “my darling” or any other affectionate term almost immediately.
- They tell you they cannot wait to be with you.
- They tell you they cannot talk on the phone or via webcam for security reasons.
- They tell you they are sending you something (money, jewelry) through a diplomat.
- They claim to be in the U.S. military; however, their English and grammar do not match that of someone born and raised in the United States.
Some other red flags, according to the CID, are:
- Be suspicious if they ask you to send money for transportation costs, communication fees, marriage processing, and medical fees via Western Union.
- If you start an online relationship with someone via social media or a dating website, check them out. Likewise, research what they are telling you for accuracy with someone you know, like a current/former service member.
- Be suspicious if they say they cannot write or receive letters. Deployed servicemen and women often have an APO/FPO mailing address and always appreciate a letter in the mail.
- Be aware if they ask you to send money or ship property to a third party or company.
- Use extreme caution if they ask you to send money out of the country, specifically to an African country.
Answers to Common Military Dating Scam Questions
As I mentioned, one of the mechanisms built into the military dating scam is that many civilians don’t know military protocol. This ranges from requests that sound legit to official-looking documents meant to mislead unsuspecting marks. However, knowledge is power, and if you know what to look for, you can stop it before it starts.
- If you receive an official-looking document, check it against this list of fake documents provided by the CID. If it’s on the list, report it.
- Military members or their family members are not charged money to go on leave.
- No one is required to request leave on behalf of a military member.
- General officers do not correspond with civilians on behalf of military personnel planning to take leave.
- A general officer will not be a member of an online dating site.
- Military members do not have to ask permission to get married.
- There is no requirement for military members to pay for early retirement.
- Insurance is provided for all military personnel and their immediate family members (spouse and/or children). This pays for medical costs at healthcare facilities worldwide.
- Military aircraft are not used to transport privately owned vehicles.
- Military offices do not help military personnel buy or sell items of any kind.
- Members of the military who are deployed to combat zones do not need to solicit funds from the public to feed or house troops.
- Deployed military personnel do not find large sums of money. Therefore, they do not need your help getting large amounts of money out of the country.
What To Do if You Are a Victim of a Military Dating Scam
If you find yourself the unsuspecting victim of a dating scam like this, do not blame yourself. These scams exist because they work and the people perpetrating them are very good at what they do. This is not your fault; it is the fault of unscrupulous criminals.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the possibility of getting your money back is unlikely. However, you can still report it and help authorities in their investigations. This in turn, may help prevent it from happening to others.
The first place to start is with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) (FBI-NW3C Partnership).
Likewise, if this is an identity theft situation, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission. This will help law enforcement with investigations of this nature. You can report it online or by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338). If you prefer mail, send to: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580.
Lastly, you can report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission on Nigerian Scams via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can report it to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission via email at email@example.com.
Dating is hard enough without worrying about getting scammed out of your hard-earned money. Remember to always be vigilant and never share your personal information or financial information with someone you don’t know. No matter how convincing they sound.
Take care, and date safe.