Spot the Conman

During this miserably wet June, I’ve found myself reading a lot more magazines than normal.  Not the celebrity type reads, the “real” people stories.  I am amazed by the number of stories of women in particular being conned out of thousands of pounds mainly in the name of love.

First we have the old story of women going on holiday and meeting the love of her life in a bar, more often than not Turkey or Tunisia, although there are of course other countries that it happens in too.  These 2 seem to have dominance in the holiday “love rat” stakes.  After he has milked as much money, mobile phones and designer labels off her that he can manage, she then usually finds out by text message or Facebook that he has gotten engaged or even married to some other woman from some other European country.  He will of course convince her for a while that it is all some lie by a jealous colleague and his heart belongs solely to her.  So she will make a few more trips to his country and part with more of her money, before she discovers he is indeed a cheating, lying, rat,  whose intentions were never anything more than taking her money, or perhaps attempting to marry her for a visa!  I am not suggesting that all Turkish or Tunisian men are doing this, but the stories seem to be getting more and more commonplace.

Next of course is the age-old “you have won or inherited a huge sum of money”.  It is of course being looked after by some random solicitor somewhere in the Netherlands and you have to pay a few thousand pounds for him to travel to Ghana or some other remote part of Africa to “sneak” it out for you.  Nigerian 419 scams as these are known, have been around for years and yet people still fall for them.  People still send Western Union money transfers off.  Money that they cannot afford to just lose, but it’ll be alright, because they will get £42 million pounds when the solicitor is freed by his captors in Ghana, who discovered why he was there and are now holding him and your money to ransom!

Now there appears to be a new predator on the block though.  The man/men signing up to uniformed dating websites and posing as members of the military, mainly as Army Officers, either American or British.  Like most women, I appreciate the appeal of a man in uniform – heck I married one!  The uniform seems to represent a lot of the things we desire in life safety, strength, reliability and trust.  A regular income and a “secure” job and they are just a bit heroic too.  These men realise this and that is one of the reasons why they have chosen to go down this route for their con.

So you are a lonely women, perhaps divorced, widowed, you have spent many years raising your family and it’s time for you to have some company and fun in your life now.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact, you should  do it, you do deserve it.  However, do so with caution.  These men seem to home in on women who have stated that they are widowed or divorced, perhaps they think they smell money or perhaps they feel that you will be vulnerable and easy to manipulate, perhaps it is a combination of both.

They will message straight away and send a profile picture of “himself” in his full military uniform, looking every bit the handsome, dashing hero.  There is a very strong possibility that the photograph is NOT the person you are messaging.  Chances are it is a photo that has appeared in some military story or document on the internet and they have stolen the image.  The photo could very well be of someone who has retired from military service years ago.  He may also include photos of some large sprawling house with cars, horses and all the trappings of a well off life.  Again this is probably plucked from the internet.

They will message you every day, bombard you with heroic stories and find out as much about you as possible.  If you have suffered from grief and loss, they will have too, so will understand exactly how you feel and promise to put you back together again.  The messages will become loving and protective of you.  He will start to suggest meeting up and start telling you he feels as though he’s known you forever.

By now he has you pretty much hooked.  He will tell you his wife died of some horrible illness or accident and he is raising their child all on his own, while serving his country.  Chances are he also lost his parents in some equally tragic manner.

So you arrange to meet somewhere in the UK.  On the day before or in fact even the morning of the meeting, you will get a message telling you he can’t come he’s being sent on a mission to Afghanistan, Iraq or whatever other country at the time there happens to be a war in.  He says he will try to email or even call you when he gets there, but he can’t tell you when that will be, or how easy it will be to make a call or get internet access.

You are heartbroken, but your concern and worry about him only further strengthens the hold he now has over you.  You might even have started to tell a few people about him.  So you get a phone call a few days later, you are madly excited to talk to him for the first time person to person.  However, you can’t help but notice that the American/British accent you were expecting sounds foreign and his English seems a little broken – Please let the Alarm bell ring.  You might even mention this to him, he will try to fob you off by saying it’s a satellite phone and the connection is very bad and that he can’t hear you properly either.  Alarm bell ringing again!

He will end the call telling you he might not be able to phone again, he doesn’t know when he’ll get back, but when he does he’s flying straight to see you.  He realises how precious life is and he wants to spend the rest of his with you, he might even mention marriage at this stage.  You are now madly in love, unless you’ve listened to your Alarm bells.

Your further communications are sporadic and by email only.  There may even be a few days when you hear nothing from him.  He will then email you telling you some dreadful war story.  His next email will be a panic one.  His child who is at boarding school or being looked after by a friend while he’s away has taken ill and requires emergency surgery which will cost $5000.  He of course has the money – you know he has, he’s a military officer, they are well paid, you’ve seen the sprawling house.  However, being in a war zone he can’t access his bank account, he needs your help.  He needs to borrow the money, he’ll give it back with interest as soon as he gets home.  He’s desperate, his child might die.  You of course want to help, even if you cannot afford to.  This should now be your big Alarm bell – the military all have Families Officers and welfare officers appointed to look after soldiers families while they are on active service.  The Army welfare service would make certain that his child was looked after, they would sort out everything on his behalf.  They would NOT leave his child to die or leave his child with no money.  They would sort out even a tiny problem.  Do not believe him, if he tells you he has no one to turn to and ask, tell him to speak to his welfare officer.  Think about it, he’s in a war zone, how did he find out his child needed emergency surgery – through the military of course!

Other lines of extracting money have included telling you he is coming home from war but the military won’t or can’t pay for his flight and of course again he can’t access his money.  Do I even need to mention the Alarm Bell.  Of course the military will fly him home, they do not send soldiers to war and then leave them to make their own way home.  They do not all trot down to the airport in Afghanistan and check in for a British Airways flight.  They come home on military aircraft, the same way they got there!

Then there is the mystery phone call from his foreign sounding friend the day before he was due to leave Afghanistan on the flight you sent $2500 by Western Union for.  The friend tells you that lover boy is in hospital in wait for it…..Ghana!  He needs money for the hospital fees and money to get his luggage out of storage and of course money for a new flight.

By now you should be deafened by the Alarm bells, your head should be vibrating.  Why on earth would he – a military office “fighting” in Afghanistan be in hospital in Ghana!  Ghana for a start is nowhere near Afghanistan and the military would not leave any of their personnel in an unsecure hospital in just some random country.  If he needed hospital treatment, he would be treated by military Dr’s in Afghanistan first and then if necessary airlifted to a military hospital, more often than not in Germany.  Once he was stabilised he would then probably be flown home to hospital.  No matter what line you are fed, the army are NOT sending him to hospital in Ghana or anywhere else in Africa/Asia.  He also would NOT be paying for his medical treatment.  Again while in active service the military sorts out his treatment.

I know some people may read these things and think, no one would fall for this stuff.  Believe me I’m just a bit gobsmacked myself that they do, but they do.  I am reading stories containing just this kind of stuff on a regular basis now.

It is a very harsh and expensive lesson to learn, it could leave you in serious financial difficulty.  So please, tread carefully.  Play it safe with internet dating, be wary and be safe.  Thousands of people really do find true love online, thousands of people end up in very happy and successful relationships due to internet dating.  Just be aware that your wonderful, heroic man in uniform, may be nothing more than a person male or female sitting in an internet cafe somewhere in Africa waiting for your big fat Western Union money transfers to turn up.

So in summary the things to be careful of are:

If he sends you the dashing head and shoulders photograph of himself in his Number 1 0r 2 dress uniform – that is the formal uniform with proper Jacket and medals etc – ask him to send you some pictures in his combat/camoflage uniform.  Believe me, I have worked with the military for years, they all have tons of these pictures.  They all have pictures posing with a tank/helicopter/or big gun.  Make sure it is actually the same face in all pictures and don’t just look at the uniform.

There is software that can do reverse image searches, it’s not fool proof and doesn’t always bring up a result, however, if the pictures have been used elsewhere on the internet, chances are the software will find them.

If he tells you he needs money for a family members operation etc, tell him to go to his Welfare/Families Officer – they all have them, don’t accept the lame excuses as to why he can’t do that – he can!

If he tells you the Army can’t/won’t fly him home – They will.  Do NOT NOT NOT send him money for a flight, no matter how much he promises in return.  The military will fly him home, they may not fly him to your house unless it’s his country of origin too, but they will fly him home.  They will not under any circumstances leave him to make his own way home from a war zone.

Lastly, don’t be put off every man in uniform that may approach you on these sites, the majority are probably exactly who they say they are, just be on your guard for the crooks.  Keep your purse shut and you mind alert.

Listen to your Alarm Bells, don’t let your thumping heart drown them out.  Remember the old saying, “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is”.

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