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 Post subject: Romance Scams Using Soldiers Names
PostPosted: Thu Oct 07, 2010 7:03 am 
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http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/o ... 1%7C175795


Oct. 6) -- Tired of masquerading as the obscure nephew of some deposed banana republic dictator? What if I told you that you could make a good income, starting today, all from the comfort of your own neighborhood cafe in Lagos, Nigeria -- or wherever? Using the quick, easy, not-patented method of impersonating fallen American soldiers, you too can exploit the trust of lonely women. All you need is an Internet connection!

Yes, it has come to this: Twenty-one years after Elwood Edwards recorded the announcement "You've got mail" and nearly nine years into one of the country's most prolonged overseas military engagements, purveyors of fraud have built a ghoulish trade on the combination of those two seemingly permanent aspects of modern life.

"They look for patriotic women, and they play on their heartstrings," Christopher Grey, a spokesman for the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, told AOL News.

Using photographs and biographical details culled from Facebook pages, memorial sites and news accounts, the perpetrators pose as living soldiers looking for love online.

Technically speaking, the perpetrators of Online Dead Soldier Romance Fraud, as we might as well call it, are not true con men. The true con man, as David W. Maurer noted in his classic 1940 study "The Big Con," "prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victim."

But the idea of a man in uniform, purportedly writing from a war zone, has proven powerful on a more ruthless level. The pictures often clinch it. For scam victim Joan Romano of Lynbrook, N.Y., one image in particular "really got my heart going because I really do cherish our soldiers," she told WABC. Next thing she knew, she'd emptied her savings account.

After exchanging pledges of romantic intent, the perpetrators often complain of poor support from the military, including a lack of telephone access, supplies or transportation. Of course, there's a way the victim can help.

The Army has received complaints from the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Great Britain and elsewhere, with victims reporting losses from a few thousand dollars to $28,000 in one case, Grey said. The stolen identities have primarily come from soldiers and Marines, who have been deployed in the greatest numbers.

In response, the U.S. government has issued warnings, with its embassy in London going so far as to post online examples of fraudulent military papers used in scams.

Internet-based fraud, of course, postdates the Internet by very little. And its dating variant has been around long enough to inspire such countermeasures as romancescam.com. But the identities of soldiers have become a new tool, as the State Department noted in an advisory, since photographs "have been published by both official sources, such as the Department of Defense, and by the individual service members themselves."

Military investigators have traced many of the cases to the minimally prosecutable, notoriously prolific and remarkably creative Fraud Coast of western Africa, where online perpetrators have elevated the basic advance fee scam to a sort of criminal art form with offshoots involving charities, hit men, puppies and babysitting (don't ask).

In one recent case documented by the Houston Chronicle, a person posing as Sgt. 1st Class Bryant A. Herlem, who was killed by an explosion in Baghdad in 2006, used pictures taken from a MySpace memorial page to solicit money from women on dating sites.

Sponsored Links "It's extremely painful," Sgt. Herlem's widow, LaNita Herlem, told the Chronicle in August. "It's probably the one thing that has hurt me the most since his death."

As with all sorts of online fraud, the expansive pool of potential victims has kept the scam alive. In a news release in March, the Army provided contact information for nearly a dozen interested investigative agencies, plus a list of tips for avoiding fraud. Since then, Grey said, he has measured progress by the number of inquiries seeking to verify a soldier's identity rather than to complain about money already lost.

"Prevention is the cure for this," Grey said. To that end, the blogger Master Sgt. S.J. Grisham dissected several of the scams in a post earlier this year, concluding that "If they ask for money, dump them!! They're losers. Troops are independent and able to take care of themselves."

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