OSI: Service members at risk for online impersonation


The Washington Post recently told the story of oft-impersonated former Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler, whose photo appears on “literally hundreds of dating profiles and social media accounts.”

None of the profiles or accounts actually belong to him; Chandler’s been happily married for 13 years, he told the newspaper.

Chandler is just one notable example service members falling victim to online scammers.

“In the past few years, there have been numerous online scams where criminals have either directly targeted military personnel or used actual and fictitious information about U.S. military members to defraud the public,” Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent Monte Stephens wrote in a March 8 commentary. “These scams range in forms and all are designed to extort information or money from innocent victims by exploiting the public’s trust in the U.S. military.”

In one common swindle, the scammer offers for sale online a car or some other valuable item at a suspiciously low price, Stephens wrote. When the would-be victim answers the ad, the scammer claims to be a deployed service member.

“Often, the scammer insists the transaction take place quickly and requests the potential victim wire the money or transfer funds via the purchase of a money card and then providing the code to the scammer.”

Military members are particularly vulnerable to impersonation for three reasons, Stephens wrote: credibility, plausibility and emotional appeal.

“Appearing attractive to a victim’s emotional response the criminal generates trust and loyalty in order to increase credibility once the scam is suggested. The military ties also give criminals a credible reason to solicit money from victims that would normally make such a request seem suspicious,” Stephens wrote.

And there’s often no shortage of personal information out there on official Air Force websites, new stories and social networking sites, all of which can be exploited, Stephens wrote.

He warns airmen to “remain vigilant to protect and minimize their Internet footprint.”


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