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Anatomy of a Military Dating Scam
UPDATE: This Ain’t Hell writes about who you can contact if you believe you have been scammed and the person is posing as a US military member.
We’ve been getting a LOT of emails and comments here on the blog from women around the world (mainly in English speaking nations) that have fallen for scams that use names and likenesses of military members to lure their prey. I’d like to take a moment to detail these scams. This is an extension of other posts I’ve written on the subject HERE and HERE.
It’s clear in reading these emails and comments that a lot of people just don’t understand the military that well and how it works on a personnel level. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that we have some morons that wear the uniform, but even morons could write better than the bozos perpetrating these scams from across the pond.
These guys have all the time in the world to convince you that they love you (and I say “guys” generically, because there are scammers posing as female servicemembers too). They takes weeks and months saying all the right things and using stories that will tug on your heart strings. They are typically widowers with young children left behind. They are or are about to be deployed. These deployments are generally of short length, 1-3 months, so as to have as many reasons as possible to bilk money from you. And, most of them are near retirement. None of them use .mil email addresses that ALL military personnel have. These are just some of the tipoffs you should be aware of.
They use sites like 101date.com, match.com, MyYearbook.com, OKCupid, Friends Reunited Dating, and others. They use military ranks and names, most of the time made up but occasionally real troops. They get the photos from internet trolling and other profiles on the dating sites. Blogs, Facebook, MySpace and other social media sites are prime real estate for those seeking photos of military members.
I won’t use the name of the readers that sent their stories, but think that telling them will serve to protect women in the future and show how these guys work. Nearly all of them are located in Africa. Some use IP anonymizers to hide their true location and make it more believable by creating fake IPs in the U.S. Before I begin to dissect these scams, I want the people who fell for it to understand they don’t need to feel embarrassed. By sharing this information, others will not fall for it.
Sgt. Kella sent his first email to me through the dating site OKCupid at the end of August. He told me he was stationed at Camp Lejeune in NC, but lived in Beeville, TX when not on base. His wife died in a car accident 5 years ago and has an 18 year old son. He told me as a teenager, he lived in London with his uncle. He gave me the address as 118 Piccadilly. His son would go and stay with his uncle whenever he was at Camp Lejeune.
I talked a little about this on the You Served Radio Show this week. How many Marines (or other military people for that matter) do you know that commute over 1400 miles to work? That’s how far it is from Beeville to Camp Lejeune. Even a National Guard or Reservist Soldier wouldn’t make that commute once a month. The pay is nowhere near worth it. Then, he says that his son went to live with an uncle in the UK while he was at Lejeune?! Wow. You’ll find that a lot of these scams may also use the UK as part of the scam. They think that if we hear the UK, we’re more likely to believe it than if they tell the truth they’re writing from Nigeria or some other impoverished African nation. As you can see, the standard “my wife died in a tragic accident and we have a small child” bit is played here.
He also told me he was to retire from the Marines in December and was ready to start a new life. After about 2 weeks of exchanging emails and chatting on yahoo, he told me they wanted to send some marines to Afghanistan and would know if his name was on the list by the end of that week. Well, his name was on the list and he then told me that he would be leaving the following Monday night. When he got “there”, he told me he was at the base camp in Kabul and would be going out to field in a few days and would not have internet access.
There are many variations out there, but this one seems an attempt to legitimize their military affiliation. Many of them are already in theater when the scam begins. Once contact is made, they are miraculously going to be shipped to a remote outpost with no internet access, phones, toilets, or even sunlight! It doesn’t exist out there. THe mission is so top secret, even they don’t know where they’re going. But, once they get there, they realize that there is ONE way that the nomads have found to tap into the rocks and dirt to extract internet access:
He got information from his “colleagues” that most marines used email@example.com as the means to communicate with people back home. He said he would go to field with a pam top but needed a pin code to communicate. I was to get in touch with this agency and apply for a code. When I told him that it would cost $250, he made it sound like he didn’t know you had to pay for the service. I sent the money, but he said the code was not activated and was afraid it would not work before he left. At the time, I was having problems with my yahoo mail going through, so it seemed legit that this was happening. I resent the email through another email account, and after he left, he sent an email saying that the code was finally activated. About a week later, he said the connection was bad and could I help him get a better connection by subscribing to http://pps.nntime.com/signup to change the IP address.
As if changing the IP address will make the connection better somehow! [rolls eyes] nntime.com is an internet anonymous proxy service that is based out of Russia. There are no standards for hosting a “proxy” on the server which is why the scammers are able to use this service. There are literally hundreds used on the site. Some are used simply by people wanting to hide their true origin, which is why some of the email IPs you see appear to come from places like Atlanta or El Segundo. Most Marines use military connections to access the internet, though I think some of the more established camps in big cities of Iraq may be contracted out.
One of the other things you’ll start to notice if you’re playing into the scam is that the scammers will be accident prone and procrastinate a lot. All kinds of misfortunes will befall them as they attempt to suck more and more money out of you. Sometimes they ask for hundreds at a time and sometimes just a few dollars.
It was $10, so I did that. He was only to be in Afghan for 1 month and after about 2 weeks there, he told me it seemed that they were going to make them stay longer and wanted me to help him apply for his retirement account and to request leave since he was retiring. He told me he would then be home in 7 days. I sent an email the the military agency requesting this information. They wanted $450 to open up the retirement account and wanted to know that if he was cleared to leave, would he wait for home flight or did we want the agency to arrange the flight home. The flight home was a month away, so we said to let them arrange it. That was when I found out I would have to pay for the flight. Sgt. Kella kept telling me that as soon as he was home, he would pay me back for all of this help I was giving him.
Here’s where us military people really start shouting at the computer screen. No one “applies” for a retirement account in the military. And we sure as heck don’t need civilians to help us with getting our retirement checks. Funny how the scammer never identifies this “military agency” that supposedly handles retirement accounts. I think we call it the VA! The email address was to a .com email and not a .mil or .gov, which is where any official emails to a government agency will be sent.
Folks, the military pays for flights home, even when there is a family emergency. Do NOT pay for a flight home. At the most, a Soldier will be able to get stateside before needing help, if any. Of course, a scammer will never pay the money back, because he’ll never be “home.”
Well, I couldn’t afford the whole amount, so he had a “friend”, an Andrew Grant (whose email address ends with firstname.lastname@example.org), help pay for part of it. By the time we got the money together, he supposedly missed the first flight on Oct. 15th and would then come home on the 26th. Around the 18th of October, while chatting, Sgt. Kella was telling me if I didn’t hear from him in a few days, he had added my name to the list of people that could get information from the military agency to let me how he was. After a few day, I wrote to them and they told me he was on a special assignment but would be back to his base to make his flight home on the 26th. Around the 24th, I got an email with the flight information for his connecting flight from Kabul to Dubai. With that email they told me they still had not received any word on Sgt. Kella, only that they knew he was alive. On the 26th, I got an email saying he had been injured and he was being sent to Dubai to the American Hospital there for further treatment. After a couple of days, I got an email from Sgt. Kella saying he had been on an assignment with 8 other marines and that a bomb went off injuring his left leg. He was to have surgery on it in Dubai.
Here’s another tip for the non-military types: when Soldiers are injured in combat, they are NOT taken to Dubai. Once they are stabilized, they are taken to Germany. Most Soldiers also don’t leave the theater of operations by way of Dubai. Now, you’re going to start seeing a lot of stuff going wrong here on “SGT Kella’s” trip back. Why? Because he doesn’t exist and isn’t on the way back. So, they invent all these different “problems” that will surface which delay the homecoming. After feeling like they’ve milked it for all they can – or until the scam is realized – they’ll simply stop responding. Or, they’ll fake their own “death” and make you feel really bad. Someone from the family will contact you for help with the funeral. Let’s continue…
Well, they were finally getting ready to release him from the hospital for his return flight home to the states, but we had to pay for his medical bill. I asked didn’t the military take care of that and he told me he had medical allowance, and would be reimbursed from that account. After getting his medical bill and new flight information taken care of, I get an email on the day he was to fly out that he had fallen and reinjured his leg. This was Nov. 10th. We go through about 2 weeks of his staying in the “hospital” going through therapy. During this time, the retirement account comes up in an email from the agency. They needed the information that was given to me back when I opened up the account at the beginning of Oct. I told them that I had never received any account information, that I thought it was sent to Sgt. Kella. I found out the account was never opened and they wanted me to open an etrade account to put his retirement benefits and benefits of services money into. Sgt. Kella told me that his “boss” said that an Ally account would be good to have too, so I opened one. The Ally account was trying to be accessed by an outside bank and was closed by ally. While talking to them, this was when I started thinking that some of this might have been part of a scam. I assumed it was with the military agency and not Sgt. Kella. In the meantime, we asked that the $450 that was sent to open up the account be sent to Sgt. Kella for traveling money. The agency did that, so I’m thinking how many scammers would send my money on my request (never dawned on me that they were all working together!)
Thankfully, the Ally people noticed the scam, but for some reason the individual kept in contact. There’s a part of this scam that is alarming and begins to lend a false sense of credibility to it. The scammers use other susceptible people within many different to unsuspectingly help them. Soldiers do not need help opening retirement accounts. As a matter of fact, it’s a rare troop that doesn’t already have one by the time they decide to make it a career. Many of us use the military’s Thrift Savings Plan to stash away money for retirement as well as Roth IRAs and other investments. We definitely don’t need complete strangers (or even our friends) doing it for us. The most simple advice is that is a troop asks you for money for ANYTHING, dump ‘em! They’re either scammers or freeloading good-for-nothings! Now here is where the water gets muddied through unwitting participants.
Anyway, Sgt. Kella had a friend who had just come back from over seas and was going to help us find out who hacked into the account. I actually talked to him on the phone. He had an accent and when I questioned Sgt. Kella on this he told me he was Latino. I know it was not that kind of an accent, so that raised some questions on my side. This “Michael Williams” was from San Antonio, TX and that is where the call originated from. The number was (210) 591-8707. This person said they would help get Sgt. Kella home for me, as well. Sgt. Kella got extremely upset by still being in the hospital and demanded that he be released. This was the first of December. When they agreed to release him, the bill was outrageous. His friend from San Antonio said he would pay for it, but ended up not being able to pay the full amount. By this time, I was having doubts and told Sgt. Kella I couldn’t send any more money. I held out for a little bit. He knew exactly what to say.
If the phone number is real and “Michael Williams” is located in San Antonio, he is most likely and unwitting participant being scammed as well. He helps facilitate transactions without realizing he/she is being used. It’s usually elderly men and women that are used to assist in these types of scams. As the scam progresses, they’ll begin tying multiple people into the scam. That is usually when it begins to fall apart because Americans tend to be smarter than the average…Nigerian.
At this point, our reader is starting to catch on. But, the scammers know exactly what to say when it looks like they’re losing their prey.
When the agency wanted to add $100 for changing his flight information, I reminded them of something they had said in an email and they made someone else pay the $100. Once the bill and flight were taken care of, he was moved to a “guest house” of the hospitals on a Friday waiting for the flight home on Sunday, December 13th. We sent the money on a Friday and then got word over the weekend that the accounting department of the hospital was not open and this delayed Sgt. Kella’s return home on the 13th. They set up another flight for the following Wednesday, but I later found out it was delayed because of bad weather. I looked on the internet, but couldn’t see anything that would delay flights for him. By this time, Sgt. Kella was getting very upset with all of the delays. His doctor was supposedly helping him get home as well. They went to the airport where I got an email from Sgt. Kella that they (the doctor and Kella) were trying to change his flight over to British Airways because that was the only airline flying out. It took a few days for the agency to transfer the flight from Delta to British Airways. On the 17th of December, I got an email from the agency saying they got the money transferred and he would be flying to London. On the 21st, they needed money to then fly him from London to the US. He then supposedly flew to the UK on the 21st. There was a delay there because the agency told me that the British Airways strike delayed him and he would be able to fly home on the 27th. I immediately wrote them and told them that the strike never happened. (now I was really suspicious) After that, I got very few emails from them (hence my thinking that it was the agency doing the scamming). They did tell me that they put him in a hotel until his met his flight to the US. For a few days, I didn’t hear from anyone. I knew he told me his son and uncle were in London, so I sent an email to Sgt. Kella saying he should meet up with them, but he didn’t want to at first because his son would want to come home with him and he wanted his son to come home a little later on so we could spend time together. After Christmas, he finally went to his uncle’s house. He asked if I could possibly help get him home and I told him I had no more money to send. The agency still had about $1000 that was not used for his return flight from London to the US. He said he was told by the hotel, the agency was having trouble and he didn’t want to deal with them any longer.
Keep in mind that this is only one incident. Not all of them are alike, but by reading this you will understand the basics of how they operate. They all have the same template, just different stories and minor differences. Okay, last part of this email:
He went to the base there in London and talked to the commanding officer about a return flight home but they didn’t have any in the next few days. He also told me he wrote an email to his commanding officer complaining about this agency. His uncle knew someone here in the US and called her and she said she could get him a ticket, but needed money. I was told she worked for some airline. We wrote the agency one more time about transferring the money to her, but that was the last I heard from them. Sgt. Kella told me he was not going to go through the agency anymore, and that when he was back in the states he was going to take care of getting any money back plus have them pay for “damages” done. With all of these delays, this was when I finally went with my gut feeling and started researching dating scams. As you can see, a lot falls under a scam. But he is smooth. When we are chatting, I can bring up a topic that he couldn’t possibly have time to get his facts straight on, and then I think that he isn’t involved in any of this. I did do an IP address check on the email@example.com, and it came up out of the UK. The website that was sending this, or was a part of this, was connected with some fraudulent dealings. Sgt. Kella did tell me a few days ago that he was to be home soon-that his uncle’s friend would have the money on Tuesday. He is still communicating with me even though he knows I am not sending any more money. He is now telling me his uncle is sick and having to take him to the hospital and all. Another delay…
Again, as a Soldier, I can pinpoint all the absurdities of this, but your average non-military civilian may not bat an eye. He went to a base in LONDON and talked to his commanding officer? I thought his commanding officer was at Camp Lejeune (or in Afghanistan)!! We don’t have bases in the UK. Notice more tragedy in the family – another heart wrenching story to suck more money out of the victim.
This entire post can be summed up easily: if they ask for money, dump them!! They’re losers. Troops are independent and able to take care of themselves. Even privates make plenty of money to subsist upon, but definitely troops retiring are self-sufficient.
Here’s what the email looks like from the “Military Communication Service” that doesn’t exist and wasn’t sent from a military email domain (firstname.lastname@example.org):
The military communication service offers a reliable and efficient means of communication in the military.
For more than 75 years, we have been a leading manufacturer of dependable, top-of-the-line communication equipment.
More than 70 percent of commercial airline pilots count on our headsets during flight. Emergency dispatchers use our radio dispatch systems to manage clear communications.
Our revolutionary talking book players help people with blindness or learning disabilities enjoy reading. Our antenna code keep troops connected on the ground and in the air.
HOW TO USE THE ANTENNA CODE
With our Antenna code and wireless headsets, you can connect to any Military HB in the world to stay in touch with troops.
All you need is Subscribe for an Antenna code and an activation code by applying and providing us with the following informations
1. Your Full Name
2. Your Address
3. Your Telephone Number
4. Full Name and ID Of The Officer You Want To Connect
5.The Department Of The Officer
6.The Base Name Of The Officer
If you get Approved , you will have to pay the sum of 250 usd for the connection.This Amount covers the approval fee, connection and activation.
As soon as payment is made you will be given an Antenna code number from us which you need to send to the officer, He should use the code any time he want to connect to internet no matter any location in the world and follow the instruction .You will be put through withing few seconds.
Lt. John Gerard
Military Communication Service(MCS)
For the record, there is no such person as a Lt. John Gerard.