What Is a Military Romance Scam?
With the rise of dating websites, apps and social media platforms, those looking for true love have more options than ever before to find their perfect partner. However, the online world can be plagued with scammers, waiting to take advantage of vulnerable lonely hearts and con as much money as possible from their targets.
The military romance scam remains one of the most common types of online frauds, with the US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) claiming they receive hundreds of calls each day from people reporting fake profiles, and from victims that have been swindled out of their cash.
The scammers will pretend to be members of the US military online, slowly gaining the target’s trust over time, before using various methods to extract funds from them. Many victims can find themselves thousands of dollars out of pocket, and in extreme cases, up to $450,000 was lost by one innocent party alone.
How do Military Romance Scams Work
Fraudsters will search social media profiles and official US military websites for images of genuine soldiers. They’ll then download and steal these photographs and use them to set up fake profiles across dating sites, social media platforms and messaging apps.
They’ll then start searching for vulnerable victims, often targeting widows and older women, or those who might be more susceptible to their advances. You might be surprised to learn that most army romance scams are carried out on Facebook, where perpetrators will test the waters by targeting groups.
The vast majority of those targeted are women aged from the late 30s to late 70s that are living in the US, although the scammers have been known to hook victims from across the globe.
Once drawn in, the fraudsters play on the target’s loneliness, slowly building up a relationship over time before starting to request transfers of funds. The scammers aren’t just limited to military love scams either, in a particular insidious twist, they’ll also target grieving widows or parents that have lost relatives on active service. They hope to prey on a victim’s genuine desire to help out a member of the armed forces that might need assistance.
Where do Military Romance Scammers Come From?
The majority of military romance scams originate from West Africa, particularly Nigeria. The perpetrators tend to be young men that have been attracted to criminal life because the rewards are far higher than taking an honest job. This type of fraud is rife in the country, with an estimated 50% of all global email frauds emanating from here.
While the Nigerian government is attempting to crack down on these operations, they can be difficult to track, and many scammers face no consequences if they get found out by their victims.
Nigeria is one of the best-connected countries in West Africa and has a huge telecoms industry, with more than 100 million citizens now online. This prevalence of internet access, coupled with fluency in English, means these scams are incredibly easy to set up and are often operated by large criminal groups, sending hundreds, if not thousands of messages each day.
What Are the Most Common Platforms for Military Romance Scams
Military Scams on Dating Sites
While not as common as Facebook scams, dating sites remain a popular target for fraudsters. Generally, the fake profile will claim to be either stationed overseas or to be living in another part of the country, making it difficult to meet up in person. They’ll tend to profess their love for the victim fairly early on into the relationship, and phrases like ‘My love’ or ‘My darling’ tend to be early red flags that something is amiss.
Dating site scams tend to be a longer con than on social media, as the perpetrator will slowly build up the relationship, teasing an eventual meeting several months down the line. This gives them plenty of time to start with small requests for cash, for example, they may claim that they need money for new boots or equipment, and this eventually builds up to larger requests such as cash for an emergency situation.
One common request is money for airline tickets, when the scammer claims they’d like to visit the victim in person, but will say they don’t have the money for it. If the scammer is claiming to be stationed overseas, this could mean they’re potentially asking for thousands of dollars for a plane ticket, but of course, they’ll never show up.
Military romance scams are far more prevalent on social media, particularly on Facebook. They work slightly differently to dating website frauds, and usually start with fairly innocuous comments on your posts. The perpetrators will usually target military groups and pages in order to narrow down their list of victims. Comments and likes will be a way of testing the water to see how receptive you are to the advances of a stranger.
The scammers will usually work from scripts, and have responses for a variety of situations that might come up, including lists of hobbies and interests, with each one designed to push you into the next stage before finally asking for money transfers. They’ll often try to take the conversation away from Facebook and onto messaging apps to do this.
How Can You Recognize a Military Romance Scam?
- Very few comments or followers – If the social media account you’re interacting with doesn’t have a lot of activity, then it’s a good sign it’s a fake. If you’re suspicious, ask them to send an email from their official US military account, each genuine one should end with ‘.mil’
- Don’t trust requests for cash – The military will cover all medical and equipment costs for active service members, and those on leave will still be paid a salary. Any request for cash should be a major red flag and not to be trusted
- Fast escalation of the relationship – If someone moves the relationship on quickly, professes their love early or is generally pushy, this is often a sign of a scam
- Duplicate profiles – scammers will often steal the real name of a soldier as well as their photos. A quick search of social media will reveal if there are any duplicate profiles
- Ask questions – If you’re suspicious, ask lots of detailed questions, and use Google reverse image search to verify photos. Simple interrogation of the scammer is usually enough to put them off
If you’ve fallen victim to a military dating scam, don’t worry, there may be a way to get your money back. The team here at PayBack are experts in fund recovery and can help you get back any cash you’ve sent via wire transfer. We offer a free consultation of your case where we’ll assess the likelihood of recovery, help you gather any evidence you need to make a claim at your bank and even confront the scammers for you. We only take on cases we’re sure we can win, and we fight your corner all the way.