You’re on social media, and suddenly a friend request or private message appears from someone you don’t know. The profile picture is likely of someone in a military uniform, and you’re intrigued.
After accepting the request or responding to the message, you’re suddenly overwhelmed by this person who is quick with praise and compliments. It may only take a matter of days before he first professes his love for you.
This is how a classic scam begins. It could be on social media or even through a dating site or app. If the number of messages I’m receiving about scams indicates the volume of them, it is in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.
One study showed that American and Canadian citizens lost more than $1 billion in scams in the last three years. And the scary part of that statistic is it only includes what was reported to the authorities.
While this site focuses on military dating scams, most dating scams are similar.
The military spin to it can make it easier for the scammer to pull off as they can use a deployment to another country as an excuse for long periods before meeting face to face.
It also provides excuses for why other forms of communication (video or phone) are not possible.
Let’s cover the basics of the stages of the scam itself. Not every fraud will have all of these characteristics, but most will hit a few of these stages, at the very least.
There’s No Discrimination – Love For All
The scammer could be male or female, straight or gay, young or old. They may be a high-ranking officer or a lower-ranking enlisted soldier. Any race, any body type. Their only concern is about money, and they will play any role necessary to make that happen.
Note: I generally use “he” in referring to the scammer, but it’s just to avoid a constant stream of “he or she” each time I mention the scammer or the victim.
Fall in Love Quickly
You could be in the very beginnings of establishing basic interactions with the person when he proclaims his love for you. This is always a red flag.
One of my friends had a scammer reach out to her through Facebook messenger. I had her play along for the firsthand knowledge of exactly how the scam would play out and coached her along the way for what to say next.
It took exactly three days before he said he was in love and was proposing marriage! Three days!!
While this tends to be the case more often than not, some scammers will continue the relationship for months before asking for anything in return.
This has gradually improved over the years as the scams become more sophisticated, but generally, you’ll get a sense that English isn’t their first language. It could be the words or the sentence structure, but it just doesn’t seem right.
This can become more of an issue when the victim’s first language isn’t English either.
All too often, because of that, they will miss this critical warning sign. More and more, I’m receiving emails from victims who are overseas, and the scammer is claiming to be an American.
Sob Story of Magnificent Proportions
If all of their stories are true, these “poor” scammers have had a rough life.
They often tell stories about being orphans, being divorced or widowed, raising children on their own who are in boarding school while deployed. Or they may go so far as having a family member with medical issues that needs immediate attention (and your money!).
There’s been a handful of cases where the scammer went for the ultimate guilt trip and combined versions of all of these scenarios into one life story.
The purpose of this is to make you feel sorry for them. Once they have your sympathy, how could you possibly add to the misery that has been their life by turning down their request?
First Request – Small Gift
When someone emails me about a potential scammer (and just for the record, there hasn’t been one where it turned out he wasn’t a scammer!), one of the first questions I’ll ask is if he has asked for money.
If the scammer has made it to the part of the scam where he is requesting items or money, I would say about 50% of the time, he will ask for a small item first.
The most popular item to request is an iTunes gift card. This can quickly be sold for cash, and once you’ve delivered it, there’s no way to get the money back. It’s also virtually untraceable.
Also, it moves the scam to the next level as you’ve now established that you will provide things of monetary value, no matter how small.
The Bigger Ask
Next, it will be the bigger ask. Some of the scammers go directly for the big one at this point, while others may continue to work their way up in dollar amounts.
These scams range from asking you to apply for their leave (which seems innocent at first) to telling you they are sending a check for a large sum of money because their account is locked.
Sometimes this may be a couple of hundred dollars for processing leave forms, and sometimes it can be in the thousands for their trip back home. In some cases, he may even tell you he’s returning home so you can be married.
Soon, you will begin to get that gnawing feeling in your gut that tells you something isn’t right. Hopefully, this happens before you send any money, though I find that’s usually not the case.
You decide to confront him, only to be met by him acting in one of three ways: (1) anger, (2) sadness or feeling of betrayal, (3) abandonment.
Unless you’re confronting him for the umpteenth time and have never given him anything of monetary value, the third of those options is unlikely to happen. He will give up and move on to an easier victim at some point, but it generally will not happen the first time you confront him.
This is where many victims get confused. They begin to doubt their gut.
They will often tell me in emails that they asked if he was a scammer, and he got agitated that after everything they have shared, she could think that of him.
Always, always, always trust your gut.
Admitting the Scam
This happens in a tiny percentage of cases, but sometimes when confronted, the scammer will admit it was a scam. The story then changes to be that although it started as a scam, he has truly fallen in love with you.
If you maintain the connection with them, the entire process starts again. Because they’ve admitted the scam to you at that point, your guard is generally down, and it’s that much easier to take advantage of you.
As the scammer sees less and less of a chance to turn the “relationship” into a monetary gain for himself, he may begin threatening you. This generally happens when the victim refuses to send any money as she has figured out it’s a scam.
The threats can be much more vicious if the victim has sent money before and is now suddenly stopping.
This is typically nothing more than an empty threat. You must remember their goal is to get you to provide money, not use their own money to track you down in another country.
It’s easier for them to just put their focus on finding the next victim. But if sending a threatening email will land them hundreds or thousands of dollars, then why wouldn’t they try?
If you’re feeling fear due to the threats, you can always report the behavior to your local authorities.
As I said, not every scam will follow this pattern exactly as it is here. But many share at least some of these characteristics.
Over time, these scammers have become more and more sophisticated. Unfortunately, social media has made it even easier to scam others.
Whether it’s through finding people to scam, stealing pictures from public profiles, or setting up their profile to lend an air of legitimacy, social media has made it harder and harder to discern what’s real versus not.
Overall, it all comes down to the money. If you’re asked for money in any format, whether it be cash, gift cards, money transfers or wires, purchasing items, or helping them to cash checks, it’s a scam.