Lonely hearts beware: He may have told you he was a soldier and run off with your money, but he’s nothing to do with us…
It is a timeless story familiar to romantics everywhere. You hook up with a brave military man serving his country overseas, you make plans for a future together, he starts asking you for money, clears out your bank account and you never hear from him again. Mills & Boon it ain’t.
Defence chiefs have been forced to come over all “tough love” with hundreds of Britain’s lonely hearts, by warning them that their online romance with a man in uniform is probably a fake. The stark advice came after a series of vulnerable women claimed they had been taken in by internet fraudsters posing as UK soldiers.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has issued a flat denial that any of its service personnel would ask for money to fund emergencies including home leave, amid growing concerns that “romance scams” were taking in hundreds of thousands of people every year.
The unusual disclaimer came after complaints from individuals who had been swindled by internet fraudsters claiming that they were British soldiers serving the nation in war-zones overseas. The victims handed over sums often amounting to tens of thousands of pounds, and then discovered that they had been led along by fraudsters who had constructed military identities in an attempt to entice lonely targets.
They are among the growing army of victims of an illicit industry believed to have taken £37bn from more than 200,000 innocent men and women, whose only mistake was to go on the internet looking for love – and trust strangers offering friendship, romance, or even marriage.
The majority of the scammers are young conmen operating from West Africa, usually Nigeria or Ghana. Experts last night said the fraudsters have increasingly assumed military identities because it immediately makes them appear more trustworthy. In one celebrated incident last summer, a scammer assumed the identity of Gen. James Mattis, head of US Central Command, in an attempt to attract lonely victims.
But the notice, posted on the MoD’s website, proves the fraud has already been used successfully on a number of UK citizens.
The statement declared: “Some users of online dating websites have reported making contact with others claiming to be British Army soldiers on operations in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“British forces personnel on Operations do not have to pay to go on leave, or to pay for flights, or replacement personnel. Remember: people online may not be who they say they are.”
Leicester University professor Monica Whitty published a study earlier this year showing that the con-men copied the methods of paedophiles to “groom” their victims during a brief internet courtship.
She said: “Pretending to be army officers is becoming very common, as people are looking for partners who are above them in socio-economic terms.
“Saying you are on duty overseas gives an excuse for not being available to meet up in person.”
Marisa Johnson, who runs the watchdog website that exposed the Mattis scam, said service personnel appeared to have “a lot of advanced trust” – particularly in the US – and UK Authorities including the US State Department have already issued warnings against the “military romance scams”.
A British Army spokesman told the IoS: “We occasionally receive queries from members of the public who have been in correspondence with someone claiming to be a member of the Army.”
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