COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — You've met the soldier of your dreams online. It's true love, even if they need a little cash.
That's no GI, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command says. It's a scam.
The command sent out a nationwide news release in a bid to warn lonely women about phony troops who use tales of war to steal cash.
"CID special agents continue to receive numerous reports from victims located around the world regarding various scams of persons impersonating U.S. soldiers online," the release stated.
The scam starts with a post on social media or a personal ad on a dating site. The fake troops often use the name and rank of a real soldier and spice up their posting with actual pictures overseas obtained online.
With American soldiers consistently ranked as the nation's most admired professionals, the Army theme is an easy way for scammers to gain trust. Once the scammer has sunk the hook, the requests for cash quickly follow, the command said.
"The scams often involve carefully worded romantic requests for money from the victim to purchase special laptop computers, international telephones, military leave papers, and transportation fees to be used by the fictitious deployed soldier so their false relationship can continue," the command said. "The scams include asking the victim to send money, often thousands of dollars at a time, to a third party address."
In the elaborate world of phony romance, the same victims can be tapped again and again.
"We've even seen instances where the perpetrators are asking the victims for money to purchase 'leave papers' from the Army, help pay for medical expenses from combat wounds or help pay for their flight home so they can leave the war zone," CID spokesman Chris Grey said.
The romance scam is the most prominent in a series of crimes perpetrated by phony troops. Other schemes involve sales on online sites with phony troops claiming they're parting with a car or other merchandise at discount prices.
"The perpetrators often tell the victims that their units do not have telephones or they are not allowed to make calls or they need money to 'help keep the Army Internet running,' " the command said. "They often say they are widowers and raising a young child on their own to pull on the heartstrings of their victims."
The Army says all of the crimes are clones of the famed Nigerian Bank Scam, which started with mailed letters decades ago and has migrated to the Internet. The military love tales are part of the same scheme that sends scam emails telling victims they've won an obscure African lottery or can claim a large inheritance from a mystery relative.
But the soldier scams come wrapped in the flag, the command said.
"One victim revealed that she had sent more than $60,000 to the scammer," CID said. "Another victim from Great Britain told CID officials that over the course of a year she had sent more than $75,000 to the con artists."
Avoiding the scam is simple, CID says: Don't send money to anyone overseas unless you know them personally.
"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," Grey said.