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Finding love is difficult if you travel a lot. You might not know where to go next, it’s hard to settle down, and you can feel isolated even from your friends and family. And a military life often involves just this. It’s difficult for established families and couples, and burgeoning relationships can be extra rough.
The internet, dating apps, and messaging options have made things easier. Contact can be maintained without the difficulties of waiting for a letter. Pictures can be shared. Video calling is often an option. It’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement and makes love possible.
Unfortunately, for every situation and potential vulnerability, a scammer hopes to take advantage of that for personal gain.
In this case, military romance scams are a common thread plaguing service members and romantic hopefuls alike.
Here’s what you need to know about these romance scams and what you can do about them.
What Is a Military Romance Scam?
A military romance scam is a type of romance scam in which the scammer either pretends to be a military member or targets military members on a dating site or app. They will message their victim under a romantic pretense.
However, as it is a scam, the interest is just a front, and the true goal is to get the victim’s trust. This gets the victim to part with money or personal information (later sold or used in identity theft).
The scam will typically go on as long as the victim keeps giving. When the victim starts getting suspicious, the scammer will ghost or block the victim, keeping their ill-gotten gains.
How Do They Work?
The exact messaging and steps taken will differ, but they mostly follow the same script as most romance scams.
This means that a scammer will reach out to an intended victim online or via a dating site, presumably looking like a normal person.
However, quickly after getting to know the victim (or not even that), the scammer will ask for money, help, or personal information, perhaps as a cry for aid or a condition for continuing communication (a real winning move, that one).
There are many variations, some of which we’ll touch upon, but they all follow that script.
However, military romance scams are special because, compared to regular ones, it is more difficult for the intended victim to see the scammer. The scammer will pose as someone far away from the victim. Meeting up for dinner won’t be easy.
This can go in two ways: a scammer may pose as a military member looking for a partner or a scammer targeting military members.
Scammers Posing as Military Members
Anyone can pose as anyone online (perhaps poorly, but enough to fool someone), and there’s no shortage of people shameless enough to pose as a military member online, complete with a (mostly) full set of information.
Pictures can be stolen, given that many service members’ photos can be found online. Information about military life? This can easily be looked up online, even if one might trip up on the details. And many victims wouldn’t know the difference or just trust the scammer knows what they’re talking about.
Romance Scams Targeting Military Members
Another side to this is military members getting locked into a romance scam. For those single and stationed in certain areas, dating locally presents some difficulties, such as cultural barriers, logistical issues, or potentially hostile situations.
It can be easier to trick someone farther away and to trick someone who feels they might not have many other options. Scammers know this and use this to their advantage.
Scammers create fake profiles and then target military members specifically by location or other means of searching. Then they often come on strong, are perfectly fine with the limitations involved, and just want to get to know their victim better.
Consequences of Falling for a Military Romance Scam
A scammer usually aims not to undermine national security but to take some money and run off. That being said, military members can face consequences if they violate rules or protocol for the sake of a scammer. Attempts at fixing it on one’s own can lead to even more issues.
Also, in many cases, the goal of a military romance scam is to steal personal information from the victim. This can lead to identity theft, problems for you and your family, and more. And while there are ways to protect yourself from identity theft after a scam, prevention is the best option.
Signs Someone Is a Military Romance Scammer
- Even given the difficulties of their supposed situation, they never want to meet in person, video chat, or talk on the phone. They’ll keep finding excuses to avoid it.
- If the scammer is posing as military, likely say it’s for security purposes. If security is that stringent, they probably shouldn’t be focused on dating now.
- They say they are looking for an “honest man or woman” or are trying to butter you up.
- They come on rather strong, to put it mildly.
- They don’t address you by name and regularly call you things like “my love,” “darling,” “honey,” etc. That’s because they’re spamming everyone with the same messages and cannot bother to put in your name.
- Their spelling and grammar are horrible.
- Look for typos, odd formatting, and the like.
- They do things that would put their personal security or career in jeopardy if they were true, such as sending you a military ID (fake, stolen, or doctored) or saying they’ll meet you next week no matter what (not exactly up to them).
How to Avoid a Military Romance Scam
- Be careful who you talk to online and what dating services you use.
- Be especially careful of dating services where making a fake account is easy and potentially effective. If it’s free, it can be a problem.
- If someone you’re talking to asks for money or anything (except perhaps your time), that’s a major red flag. Never send money or provide personal financial information, especially before meeting someone.
- Additionally, be careful about the payment method someone might be asking for. The more irreversible it is, the more suspicious it is.
- Be careful if someone is reluctant to video chat or talk on the phone. Sometimes someone realistically wouldn’t be able to, but they should have time eventually. Otherwise, what are they doing dating?
- Realistically, the farther away someone is, the more suspicious you should be.
- Be wary of messages, accounts, or email addresses relating to Africa or African countries. The U.S. military presence in Africa is relatively minimal, and the scammer’s presence is quite high.
What Can a Military Romance Scam Look Like?
Some forms of it, on both sides of the equation, include:
- The scammer might want to meet soon but needs help with transport costs and logistics. Typically, this is financial help; should you send it to them, they’ll run into another problem. And so on.
- You might get a message quickly after you start talking that they need help with necessities and they need your financial support. They might ask for gift cards or a wire transfer for this.
- A scammer posing as a military member will often act like they are stationed overseas (Iraq and Afghanistan were popular options, though times are changing), but otherwise in an inaccessible place. The more seemingly inaccessible they are, the better it is for the scammer. From these places, they will ask for support.
- The scammer might invent some regulations or restrictions that they need your help to pay to get around.
- Under the pretense of getting leave or getting you ready to visit them, the scammer will ask for excessive personal information, perhaps something like your social security number.
Helpful Things to Remember
- There isn’t a fee to enter a military base. Either you’re going to be allowed in or not. Try to learn the rules for visitors to military bases that would be relevant to you. There are some helpful resources to this end.
- A general officer will not have a dating profile as a rule, and a general officer will not be involved in your dating a service member.
- A military member will not be charged money to go on leave, and you are not required (or able) to request leave on their behalf.
- The military takes care of its members regarding food, shelter, health insurance, and practically all other necessities (it’s a poor strategy not to take care of those things). You don’t need to send money or provide any necessities. A fun gift might be nice, but the basics are covered.
- A military member will not need your help getting out of a country legally (and you’d best not get involved illegally).
Is Anything Being Done?
Yes, but there is only so much organizations and authorities can do. Many of these scams originate overseas, and it can be hard to track down the culprit.
On top of that, even if the culprit can be tracked down, apprehending them or making them face the consequences is its own challenge.
Therefore, the best solution is prevention. Apps and organizations are putting their best efforts forth with this, either through technological means, extra security measures, or awareness, Yet you need to do your part as well by learning what you can.
What to Do If You Get Scammed
Getting scammed can be rough and make you feel vulnerable. You might not know exactly what to do, what is happening, or where to turn. However, there are steps you can take.
Go by the following in this general order, with exceptions based on your situation:
1. Cut off Contact and Collect Information
You aren’t going to get anywhere by talking to the scammer further. They’ll either try to suck you into their scam more and deny everything, ghost you with the knowledge that you know it’s a scam (not an advantageous position), or work more aggressively toward you, potentially making things worse.
And you won’t get your money or information back for it.
If you can safely get a copy of any conversations and transactions that took place, this is good. Keep those safe. Don’t put yourself in danger for it, though, and cut off the scammer.
- Blocking them on any messaging platform you use, including email, dating apps, social media, etc.
- Blocking their phone number if they used one, and preparing to block others (without responding).
- Depending on how far the scam went, blocking or removing any access to your accounts. This may include changing passwords or two-factor authentication information.
- In rare cases, tell your friends and family about the situation so they can also block the scammer.
2. Report the Crime
You might feel the urge to keep this private or deal with this entirely yourself, but you won’t get far in restoring your identity or getting anything back. Instead, you may need to report the crime to the following:
- You can report scams to the FTC. You might not hear from them directly, but you can get a report, and you will be helping to crack down on these types of scams in the future.
- Depending on your position, there might be other authorities or police to report the scam to. Use your best judgment about this and its long-term reputational effects, though having official reports will help more if you seek to prevent theft and get your assets back.
- I’ll talk more about this shortly, but you’ll want to report any fraud to your banks and creditors.
- If applicable, report them on the dating app or messaging service so no one else falls for their scam. It won’t stop the scammer for long, but it will help.
- They might have already been banned if you cannot find the account to report them on the dating app. Don’t worry about it further.
3. Try to Reverse the Damage
After reporting everything, you might have more documentation that will help you, detailing that you are the victim of a scam, fraud, etc. With this in hand or as part of the previous step, it’s time to see what you can fix.
If your credit card was used or your accounts were compromised, you want to contact your bank and credit card provider.
- Most credit cards have extensive fraud protection. If you are defrauded and catch it in time (60 days is the minimum in most cases), you should not be responsible for more than $50 in charges.
- Most credit cards from major providers will have no liability on your part.
- You can freeze your bank and credit card accounts, preventing them from being used or requiring extra confirmation. It might be slightly inconvenient, but it’s far better than dealing with identity theft.
- You will want to put a credit freeze in place and a fraud alert on your accounts. This will make it more difficult for a scammer to open a line of credit in your name or access your accounts.
If you send gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency, it might be difficult to get back your money. It’ll likely be more trouble than it is worth (if possible) because the perpetrator is likely overseas. Scammers like these methods of payment because they are difficult to reverse.
4. Reflect and Protect Yourself
It can be tough to reflect on the fact that you got scammed, and the personal nature of the scam can make it feel worse. You trusted someone, and you got hurt for it.
Yet reflection is how to grow and ensure this doesn’t happen again when you’re reading to try and find a partner again. You will want to consider what happened, how you fell for it, and whether you missed any signs.
Consider reevaluating how you use dating apps and what information you keep online.
You’ll also want to protect your identity and your personal information more. If information is stolen, you won’t be getting it back, and it could affect you months or even years later.
In this case, you’ll want to invest in an identity theft protection service such as Aura to watch for identity theft for you, provide insurance in the event of the worst, and provide alerts when needed. It will save you time, especially since you have better things to do than watch your credit constantly.
While these are particularly nasty scams meant to prey on people’s good intentions and hope for a connection, you must be aware of them. When you fall for one, it can lead to ever-escalating problems until it is fixed.
Know both sides of this coin, and be aware that there are resources that can help you.
Whether you are a military member or generally looking to date, I hope you find what you’re looking for and keep yourself safe. That might mean learning more about scams, investing in a service like Aura, or taking other security measures. You can keep this from becoming a problem in your life.
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