It's a new twist on an old scam. The Army Times newspaper today details the growing trend of fraudsters stealing the identities of US Army soldiers from social network sites and then using that information to set up false profiles on Internet dating sites. The profiles are uses to dupe prospective dates out of their money. But there are other consequences too.
From the Army Times: "The unwitting soldiers are sometimes victims when their loved ones discover the online profiles and believe their soldiers are looking to cheat. [Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham, who uses his blog, "A Soldier's Perspective," to expose scammers using the soldier dating con] said the scam is a new twist on the so-called Nigerian 419 advance fee scam, and its popularity is growing, fueled by soldiers' routine use of social networking sites and the Internet's penetration into third-world havens for con men. 'In the past year, the traffic on my site related to the scams I write about has tripled,' Grisham said. 'I'll get 30 to 40 comments a day and 20 e-mails a day asking me to look into whether or not they're being scammed.'"
More on online scams:FBI details worst social networking cyber crime problems
The problem is becoming more widespread too. From a Huffington Post report: "Britain estimates nearly $100 million is lost in online dating scams involving stolen identities, run by fraudsters usually based in West Africa, annually. And according to a new report, assuming the identity of US military officers based overseas are, for many scammers, the perfect cover -- with photos usually readily available on the Internet, and brave, adventurous-sounding tales that seem to have enduring appeal when targeting single women. 'They're very clever at getting under your skin...seeing what makes you tick and working on human emotion,' said Bernard Herdan of Britain's National Fraud Authority. "
More from the Army Times: "Scammers find American soldiers an effective cover because their images engender a trust and respect that can blind a person to other suspicious behavior, particularly if the victim is vulnerable and looking for love. 'A lot of people want to bend over backward to support troops, and there's that mystique about a man in uniform that some ladies like," Grisham said. "These ladies, they fall in love with this image of a soldier who's a sweet-talker, and that all comes crashing down when they find out the truth.' Scammers depend on their victims' ignorance about the American military. A common false claim is that soldiers have no access to a phone in the war zone, so the victim must pay a fee to set one up. Another claim, backed with phony documents, is that the "soldier" needs the victim's help to pay for his leave - which is, in reality, free."
The FBI has often warned of scams involving military personnel. For example, last year it wrote about social networking sites: "Significant personal data is available through these sites which users join by city, workplace, school and region to connect and interact with other people. One scam involves individuals using these social networking sites to contact relatives of deployed U.S. military personnel, most specifically grandparents.
The impostor advises the grandparents that he is returning home on leave from Iraq and asks the grandparents to keep his presence secret so he can surprise his parents. A short time later, the grandparents are again contacted and the impostor advises them that he and a friend are stranded with a broken down car. He then asks the grandparents to wire a significant amount of money to cover the cost of the repairs."
In Congressional testimony last year the FBI has talked about how users on social networking accounts such as Facebook and MySpace are ripe for cyber crime and that such crimes using those network has been rapidly increasing. "The surge in the use of social networking sites over the past two years, has given cyber thieves and child predators new, highly effective avenues to take advantage of unsuspecting users," said Gordon Snow, Assistant Director of the FBI's Cyber Division.
The privacy and security problems of social sites has gotten the attention of the scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Last year it issued a call for information on how it can help develop technology to best protect the rich private details that are often available on social media sites.
"Massive amounts of social network data are being collected for military, government and commercial purposes. In all three sectors, there is an ever growing need for the exchange or publication of this data for analysis and scientific research activities. However, this data is rich in private details about individuals whose privacy must be protected and great care must be taken to do so. A major technical challenge for social network data exchange and publication is the simultaneous preservation of data privacy and security on the one hand and information utility on the other," DARPA stated.
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