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Military Romance Scams

Military Romance Scams

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Military romance scams are a type of imposter scam where fraudsters pose as service members and emotionally manipulate victims into sending them money, gift cards, or sensitive information.  Many fraudsters live in foreign countries and use stolen photos and personal information from real veterans or active-duty service members to fool their victims.

Here’s how military romance scams typically work:

  • Fraudsters create fake profiles on dating apps, websites, and social media. They’ll use real photos and research real service members to create a believable persona.
  • Next, they identify vulnerable targets. The usual victims are people who show support for the military either through their profiles or by joining Facebook groups or donating to veterans' charities.
  • Once you’re in an online relationship, they escalate quickly. Scammers will “love bomb” their victims or even propose in a matter of weeks. Many scammers operate as groups and share scripts and formulas that pull on your emotions and cloud your judgment.
  • Once you’re hooked, they ask for favors. This could be in the form of money, gift cards, or sensitive information they can use for identity theft and extortion.
  • When you realize they’re a scammer, they disappear. You're left embarrassed and out the money they stole from you.

Warning signs of military romance scams:

If you see any of these warning signs, you could be dealing with a military romance scammer. Here’s what to look for:

  • They ask for money.  In almost every case, the easiest way to spot a military romance scammer is simply if they ask you for money. Never send money or banking details to someone you’ve never met in person. And don’t believe images of checks they’ve sent you. These can easily be faked. 
  • They say they can’t access their bank account - Military romance scammers will often claim they’re dealing with a banking issue due to being deployed overseas. Maybe they can’t get into their account, or they’re unable to deposit their usual pay and need help getting money. But if you send them money, they’ll always have an excuse as to why they can’t pay you back. And if you give them your banking details to “deposit” their pay, they’ll use that to commit financial fraud and empty your account. 
  • They need money to pay for food or housing.  Another common military romance scam is claiming they need money to pay for food or housing. But the military feeds and houses soldiers. They don’t need to reach out to civilians to cover these kinds of expenses.
  • They want you to help them get money back into the U.S.  It is very unlikely for active-duty military personnel to come across large sums of money by chance.  This is known as the “unexpected money” scam. A fraudster will use their backstory to claim they’ve come into money abroad and want your help getting it into the U.S. For example, they might say they found cash or valuable goods during an operation and are allowed to keep it. This is a scam. They’ll ask you to either front them cash to help get the money out of the country or they’ll request your financial information, after which a “banker” will reach out to organize the transfer. But in both cases, you’ll only lose money. 
  • A commanding officer is demanding money from them.  If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a commanding officer, hang up. Commanding officers will never call civilians for any reason, especially not to ask for money or gift cards. High ranking military officers will not reach out to civilians when a service member is planning to take leave. 
  • They want you to hold onto a valuable package for them.  A more recent military romance scam is where the scammer asks to send you a package. They’ll claim they have something valuable they need to get out of the country.  First off, they can now use your home address to commit a change-of-address scam or other types of identity theft. But the more likely outcome is that the “package” they send you will get stuck in customs. You just need to pay a fee to release it.  The scammer will tell you not to worry and that the package is more valuable than the fee. But once you pay it another fee will appear (or the scammer will disappear).  Soldiers and servicemen won’t send you mystery packages or ask you to pay customs fees.
  • They need to pay to go on leave.  This is a common excuse that fraudsters use in order for you to pay for them to visit. But the military will always pay for soldiers to return home safely, regardless of where they are.  Another common variation of this scam is a superior reaching out to you to arrange the scammer’s trip “home.” If anyone asks you to help pay for travel arrangements, it’s a scam. Military members are not responsible for transportation costs to return home after serving.
  • They can’t video chat for "security reasons".  Romance scammers know that if they get on a video call, you’ll see that they’re pulling off an impersonation. So, they come up with constant excuses to get out of them, like having a poor internet connection or not being allowed due to security restrictions. A very common variation of this scam is saying they can’t video chat because they’re in the special forces and it would be dangerous.
  • They need money to pay for their children or medical procedures.  Military romance scammers already know that you value people who are responsible and take care of others. And they’ll use this against you. Scammers will claim they need help paying for their children (many scammers claim to be widowers) or for medical procedures for family members. Again, any attempt to get you to send money, wire transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency is a huge red flag. All military personnel have access to world-class medical insurance that covers medical fees and care for themselves, their children, and their loved ones. 
  • They quickly tell you they love you or even propose. To get you hooked on the scam, fraudsters want to move the online romance forward quickly. To do this, they’ll express their deep feelings for you and tell you they love you within a matter of days or weeks. While it’s completely normal to feel excited by a new relationship, there’s a difference between legitimate emotions and “love-bombing.” Deemed a warning sign of abuse by psychologists, love-bombing is when someone expresses an extreme amount of affection very quickly in a relationship. Scammers will also use this as an opportunity to get you to pay for a “fiancé fee” that will allow them to come back and marry you. Be cautious of anyone who moves quickly or even proposes before you’ve met. This can be a warning sign of a romance scam. 
  • They only use a personal email address (not a .mil one).  While it’s common for service members to use normal email domains (like Gmail, Yahoo, etc.), most senior personnel will have an official .mil address. These are only available to people in the military. It’s not an immediate red flag that someone doesn’t have a .mil email address. But if they do, you can feel a little more secure. 
  • They give you a direct phone number but never answer.  Scammers want to control the flow of communication in order to manipulate victims. A common tactic is to give you a direct phone number to build trust. But any time you call, they don’t answer and instead call you back later.  This tactic works especially well for military romance scams, as they can say they were on a mission or in training. But be especially cautious if you can never reach someone when you want to.  Also, be cautious if they say they can’t receive mail. Even if they have poor internet or phone reception, soldiers can still receive mail with an APO or FPO mailing address. If the soldier you’re speaking with tells you that you can’t send mail, that’s another sign that they’re an impostor.
  • They say they need to pay to retire.  Some scammers will claim they want to retire early so they can be with you. But they’ll say they need to pay fees to get out of their service duty. This is a lie. Soldiers can retire cost-free and there are no charges associated with early retirement in the armed forces. 
  • They send you images of their “official” military ID badge.  Another way that scammers build trust is by sending you their official military ID. But these photos can easily be doctored to match the backstory they’ve created.  Plus, it would be risky for any active service member to send you a photo of their ID, as it contains personal information they wouldn’t want out in public. 
  • They’re stationed or live far from you.  Be careful if the person you think you’re talking to is normally stationed or lives far away from you. While this isn’t always a red flag, it should be something you question. Ask what their intentions are. If they’re trying to build a relationship, why not do it with someone close to their hometown and family?  Soldiers on dating websites who have no real-world connection to you could be trying to catfish you. 
  • They claim to have been deployed for 2+ years.  Military romance scammers are always overseas and unable to visit you. In many cases, scammers will claim to be on extended deployments to keep their fraud going. But deployments do not last three years — and most don’t last more than 15 months. Any soldier who claims to be deployed for three years or more is likely a scammer.  Soldiers may be on tour for one to two years, and the typical length of a deployment is 15 months.
  • Their social media accounts are thin (few friends, old posts, etc.).  If you start to investigate your romantic partner and find their social media accounts, look for warning signs of an imposter scam.
    These include:
    - Low friend count (the average Facebook user has 338 friends [*])
    - No recent posts
    - Only the same photos they used on their dating profile
    - Sharing strange links in foreign languages
    - Multiple profiles with the same name and photos

  • They want to move the conversation to WhatsApp or texts.  If you connect with a scammer over a dating app or site like Facebook, they’ll want to quickly move to WhatsApp or Telegram in case their profiles get taken down. Many platforms — including dating and social media sites — have policies that can help protect you against scammers. Try to stay on them as long as possible. Moving off of official dating websites to personal messaging tools is a red flag that you’re dealing with a fraud. 

How to tell if you’re talking to a military romance scammer

It can be difficult to admit you’ve been scammed on a dating site (and even harder to convince a friend). But if you see the warning signs and still aren’t convinced, there are a few final steps you can take.  Start by listening for the common phrases that scammers use, such as:
  • Saying they’re on a “peacekeeping” mission.
  • Saying they’re looking for an “honest woman” (or man).
  • Telling you their parents, wife, or husband are deceased.
  • Claiming to have children who are being looked after by a nanny or guardian.
  • Professing their love almost immediately.
  • They claim to be in the U.S. military, but their spelling and grammar aren’t what you’d expect from a native English speaker.

Next, research their name and reverse image search their profile photos:

  • Do a reverse Google image search of their photos. Drag or paste their photo into Google and see what comes up. If there are multiple social media profiles or the photos are publicly available, it could be a scam.
  • Search their name on social media. Are there multiple profiles? Do they all use the same photos or variations of them? This is a huge warning sign.
  • Google “their name + scam.” Scamming groups reuse the same names and photos until they no longer can. If someone else has been scammed using this fake identity, you might find it on Reddit, Twitter, or other sites.

What To Do if You’re the Victim of a Military Romance Scam

If you recognize any of these warning signs or common phrases from military scammers, the first thing you need to do is break off contact with them. Stop answering messages and don’t send them any (or any more) money.  Then, once you’ve separated yourself from the scammer, follow these steps:
  • Don’t blame yourself. Scammers are getting better and more sophisticated at fraud. While it may be hard to accept that someone you’ve grown to know and care about is an impostor, it’s easier than dealing with the aftermath of fraud.
  • Report the scam to the FBI and CID. You should report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the U.S. Military Criminal Investigation Division.
  • Flag the account on the dating site, app, or social media site. Block the scammer’s account and then flag them with the service you’re using.
  • File an official identity theft report with the FTC. If you’ve given the scammer personal information, you should file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission at
  • Check your financial statements and freeze your credit. Look for signs of fraud in your credit report. You can also freeze your credit with the three main credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. A credit freeze stops scammers from using your personal information to open new accounts or take out loans in your name.
  • Start monitoring your credit. Monitor your bank, credit union, credit, and investment accounts for signs of fraud. If a scammer is trying to steal your money, they can alert you so you can shut them down and protect your finances.
  • File a police report. In some cases (like if you’re claiming identity theft protection insurance), you may also need to file a police report for identity theft with your local law enforcement.
  • Try to reverse any payments you sent the scammer. Follow the steps in this guide on how to get your money back if you’ve been scammed online.
  • Update all of your passwords. Scammers can use your personal information to take over your online accounts. Update all of your sensitive accounts with new, unique passwords and use a password manager and 2FA for enhanced security.
  • Consider signing up for identity theft protection. Nearly 30% of victims of identity theft are repeat victims. If a scammer has your info, they could strike again. Consider signing up identity theft protection. They’ll monitor your online and financial accounts for signs of fraud. And if the worst happens, you’re covered by an insurance policy for eligible costs due to identity theft.

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