Ladies: Beware of Soldiers on Internet Dating Siteson January 3, 2013 @ 4:58 pm (Updated: 6:06 pm - 1/3/13 )
That's what Joint Base Lewis McChord Army Major Gordon Hannett says. His smiling-man-in-uniform photos have been used thousands of times on hundreds of dating websites by scammers targeting women.
"It's almost always the same thing. What they do is, they start talking to the woman through emails. They basically get them hooked; they send poetry, they tell them they love them. They tell them they're in the Army and they're in Afghanistan or Iraq. Even today, they'll say they're in Iraq when the Army has been out of Iraq for months.
"[A] big part of the scam is that after they get the woman hooked, and thinking they're in love with this person, they'll say, 'I want to come visit you' or 'I want to come marry you. But the Army wants me to pay $500 or $3000 to go on leave. Actually, you have to fill out the leave form and send it to my commander.'
Major Hannett says the scammers sometimes also pretend to be a commander or a General to carry out the scam.
"The women will send the money even though there's no cost to go on leave. It's perfectly free. You just fill out a form and turn it in. No other person can request a soldier's leave. Civilians don't know that. They'll fall for that and send thousands of dollars."
When Major Hannett was serving in Iraq, he posted photos of himself on a website so his family could check in on him. Those photos were almost immediately stolen.
"What they're looking for is multiple pictures of the same soldier and hopefully a smiling soldier. Pretty much every picture I took while I was in Iraq, I made sure I was smiling to make sure my family didn't think I was having a bad time. They were worried about me. So, you know, a smiling face, a solider that's the right age. They're looking for someone in their 30's or 40's. I think they use soldiers, mostly, because people trust soldiers."
Oh, and the scam works.
"At this point I've heard from over 320 women on Facebook. I keep track, I have a little notebook. A couple of times I've gotten phone calls, just out of the blue. I don't know how they got my cell phone number. Twice I've received letters from women. One from Australia and one from Malaysia."
Three hundred and twenty women, and those are just the ones who have come forward to Major Hannett. He says that when the women realize they've been scammed, they track him down by his last name.
"As you can see in all of these pictures, you see my last name on the uniform. So the scammers are stuck with that last name, there's nothing they can do about that. So they'll make up a first name."
Major Hannet says he's contacted the FBI and it says it knows about the scam, but there's nothing they can do. He says he's not really affected by the scam, but these women have had their hearts broken and their bank accounts emptied.
"It's almost always women in their 40's, 50's and 60's. They're looking for retirees, widows especially, who have some money. Just today I looked on Facebook and I found three people with fake profiles with my last name and my pictures. Every week I find people with fake profiles with my pictures."
Major Hannett has made it his mission to get the word out, so women don't fall for these scams and soldiers protect their photos from scammers. But he's still surprised that the ladies get duped.
"A soldier tells you that he's a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, or a General. His English should be perfect. I've seen scripts of the conversations that they have in IM messages. It's not perfect English. [It's] terrible English. You know, the guy will say, 'I'm in Afghanistan but I want you to send the money to Ghana.' And the woman will say, 'Why Ghana?' And he'll say, 'That's where I have business interests.' or 'That's where my partner is.' The women fall for that. Why would you send money to Ghana?"
The most interesting thing is, once these women contact him, and they know he's not the man who sent them romantic poems and said I love you, they still try and strike something up with him.
"Oftentimes when they contact me, they're hoping that something is going to blossom between the two of us. Almost always they'll say, 'Oh, your wife must be very happy that you're back home.' Hinting that they're waiting for me to say, 'Oh, I'm not married.' And I'm not married, but I never ever even broach that topic because it's too complicated."
I've tried to convince Major Hannett that marrying one of these ladies would make an amazing Lifetime movie, but he's not buying it.
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