How to spot and prevent military romance scams

Yaron Dror

February 01, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Account Protection

For better or for worse, the pursuit of love has migrated online — leading to the rise of romance scams.

Some of the most common scams happen when people impersonate military personnel. They use your sympathy to gain trust and eventually ask you to send them money, which can pose a significant threat to your financial security. 

Understand the nuances of military romance scams and equip yourself with the first line of defense: knowledge. This way, you can easily identify and protect yourself from fraud.

What are military romance scams and how do they work?

Military romance scams are a form of deceptive practice where fraudsters create fake profiles on dating apps, websites, and social media, often posing as service members. Their goal is to catfish unsuspecting people and, in most cases, steal their money. 

Most military scammers target vulnerable individuals who don’t know better, quickly escalating online relationships to build trust and tug at the heartstrings. Once they establish an emotional bond, they start asking for favors, usually involving money or personal information.

Here’s how it works: 

  • Creation of fake profiles: Dating scammers often use stolen photos and fabricated biographies to appear as authentic military personnel.

  • Targeting vulnerable individuals: Scammers look for emotionally vulnerable people, using information from their profiles to initiate strategic conversations. 

  • Rapid relationship progression: The scammer will quickly profess love or a deep connection to create a false sense of intimacy.

  • Financial favors: Once the scammer establishes trust, they ask for money. This can happen under various pretenses, like needing funds for travel, medical emergencies, or suspicious investments.

How can you tell a military scammer? 12 key signs

It’s exciting when someone sends you a message on a dating app — especially when they seem to have the same values and interests as you. But if they seem like the whole package, think again. You never know who’s a scammer.

Here are some red flags that could indicate an army scam:

1. Bank account access issues

Scammers often claim they can't access their bank accounts due to military deployment. This tactic creates a sense of urgency and legitimizes their request for financial assistance.

2. Urgent monetary needs

They might fabricate scenarios requiring immediate financial help, such as paying for basic necessities like food or housing. This exploits your compassion and sense of duty to help.

3. Manipulative tactics

Some scammers might claim that a commanding officer is demanding money or that they’re cut off from their financial resources. This isn’t standard military practice, which plays on your lack of knowledge about military operations and procedures.

4. Travel-related frauds

Given the nature of the military and deployment lifestyle, scammers might request money to purchase plane tickets. It could be under the guise of visiting you, but they never come.

5. Medical emergencies

Scammers may feign health crises, asking for money for medical bills or life-saving procedures, preying on the victim's empathy and urgency to help.

6. Suspicious investments

Some scammers propose investment opportunities — usually urgent and high return — to defraud large sums of money.

7. Communication avoidance

They often avoid video calls or meetings under the pretense of security concerns or deployment in remote areas, preventing you from verifying their identity.

8. Language inconsistencies

Many scammers are non-native English speakers, which can show through unusual language patterns or errors in their messages.

9. Rapid emotional escalation

Known as love bombing, this tactic involves overwhelming you with affectionate messages and declarations of love. The goal is to quickly deepen the emotional bond so you don’t question them.

10. Misuse of military terminology

Since scammers aren’t actually in the military, they may incorrectly use or overemphasize military jargon in an attempt to sound authentic.

11. Requesting untraceable payments

They often ask for payments through methods like gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrencies, which are hard to trace and recover.

12. Inconsistent stories

Their background stories may have glaring inconsistencies or change over time — and if you catch them in a lie, they’ll make you feel like the one who’s in the wrong.

What questions to ask a military scammer

If you find yourself asking, “How do I know if a soldier is real?” there are things you can say to catch them. Try these specific tactics:

  1. Email confirmation: Ask them to email you with their military email address. Official military personnel typically have a .mil email address, which is a strong indicator of authenticity.

  2. Deployment history: Strategically probe them about their deployment history, including locations and dates. Consistency and detail in their response can help verify their claims.

  3. Military Occupational Specialty (MOS): Inquire about their MOS or specific job in the military. A legitimate military member should be able to explain their role and responsibilities clearly.

  4. Proof of identity: Request a photo in uniform with a current newspaper or a timestamp. Scammers often use stolen images, so asking for a specific, recent photo can be a revealing test.

  5. Verification of military stories: If they share specific military experiences, ask for verifiable details you can independently corroborate. Genuine stories will consistently align with known military operations or news events.

  6. Comfort with video calls: When in doubt, suggest a video call. Scammers often avoid video interactions when they’re using fake images. Genuine military personnel, even if deployed, will have occasional access to video communication technologies. And remember — if someone actually cares about you, they’ll make the effort to call.

How to avoid military romance scams: 4 tips

Taking preventive measures minimizes your chances of falling for a military romance scam. Here are five things to always remember:

  1. Never send money: Regardless of the story or circumstance, refrain from sending money to someone you've met online. Scammers often fabricate emergencies or crises to solicit funds.

  2. Research the people you talk to: Conduct thorough research on the people you’re interacting with on dating sites. A reverse image search of profile pictures can reveal if the images have been used elsewhere, which could reveal that they’re a catfish. Scrutinizing their social media presence for inconsistencies could also provide further insights.

  3. Communicate over the phone or video: Avoid constant messaging over platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. If you want to really get to know someone (and verify their identity), ask them to talk over the phone or video chat. People who only want to communicate over text are likely scammers.

  4. Consult trusted friends or family: No matter who you’re talking to online, discuss your interactions with trusted people in your life. They can offer a fresh perspective and may notice red flags that you don’t see.

What to do if you fell for a military romance scam

If you find yourself a victim of a scam, it’s not your fault. Scammers’ entire livelihood is about figuring out how to dupe you — and they’re good at it. Just act promptly to minimize the effects if you do send someone money or information. 

Here’s how to report a romance scammer and prevent further damage:

  1. Report to authorities: Immediately contact the FBI and the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). Reporting to these authorities helps them investigate the scam and prevent them in the future.

  2. Flag the scammer: Alert the dating site, app, or social media site where you met the scammer. In most cases, you can report their profile for fraud and get it taken down. This prevents the scammer from targeting other victims.

  3. File an official identity theft report: If you have shared any personal information that could lead to identity theft — like identification numbers — file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

  4. Contact your bank: If you've transferred money to the scammer, contact your bank immediately. They might be able to stop the transaction or work with you to recover your funds. You should also monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity.

  5. Change online account passwords: Update the passwords for all of your online accounts, especially if you've shared any passwords with the scammer. Make sure your new login information is hard to guess.

  6. Seek emotional support: Falling victim to a romance scam can affect both your bank account and your confidence. Don't hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or professional counselors if the experience affected you emotionally.

Protect your heart and your wallet with IronVest

Awareness and vigilance are key to successfully navigating the world of online dating, whether you’re worried about military scams or just want to stay safe online. 

For added security, try IronVest's tools. This comprehensive security system can mask your email and phone number, hide your credit card information, and implement biometric authentication for all of your online accounts. Staying informed is your first line of defense, but IronVest is your most important.

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