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Now, Dear Readers.  I consider myself pretty savvy around here in the online world.  Save for a geriatric laptop that will be, hopefully, replaced with something spiffy and new next year (maybe a Surface Pro).  Meanwhile, it might be like walking around in painfully outdated clothes or driving an old beater car.  Sure, they both still ‘work,’ but aren’t so fashionable anymore.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve still got Windows XP and Office 2003 running in here, so it’s a big ol’ blast of retro when I shut off my work laptop and get back online at home.  Hilarious.  This home laptop (a vintage 2006 Dell Inspiron E1705 for those curious) has rarely ventured out of the home office and has only been taken out of my house a small handful of times.  That was back in my unemployed era of early/mid 2010 when I was doing part-time pro bono work to help out a colleague and friend and keep my mind from going to mush while I looked for work. 

Anyway,  I keep my virus protection on it up to date. I scan regularly for spyware/malware and use a registry cleaner and backer-upper.  I change my passwords regularly and don’t use the same one for each of my online accounts.  Good, smart stuff like that.

Well, I recently stumbled upon something that blew my mind.  And who would have guessed it would have surfaced in the world of…wait for it…Online Dating.

Are you grinning or groaning right now?  Yep, I decided to jump back in the pool and give this another shot.  I really, truly am looking for the real deal, and yet I’ve been so heads down focused on work and getting back in shape – just trying to BE the best ME – that perhaps I haven’t really, truly opened up and breathed enough to really provide the space that’s needed for something like a possible new relationship.  Whether he’ll find me on the interwebs or not I don’t know.  At the very least, the process can be beyond entertaining.

I received a very nice email via the online dating email system from a handsome gent just wanting to get to know me better.  He said he’s currently based in the local area here, but currently overseas in the US Army, deployed in Libya.  He didn’t say much about himself in his profile, but that didn’t concern me too much.  Guys in the military probably can’t disclose too much about what they do.  And there are several military bases in a 50-mile radius from where I live.

Fast forward a few days and I found myself with a new Army pen pal, with outpourings of what he was looking for in a long-term relationship. And great pictures too!  He told me how he’s an only child and both his parents are deceased.  He told me about his wife’s passing at a young age (30) from breast cancer 13 years ago, leaving him a widower with a 2-year-old daughter to raise on his own (but thankfully has live-in help at his house back in the States to look after her).  And how he promised to wait at least 10 years since his wife’s passing in honor of her memory before settling down again.  Where he’s from originally (nowhere near where I am) and where he wants to buy a house with the right woman when he gets out of the military.  When I told him the area where I live and that it truly is home to me as much as I enjoy travel, he said he would be happy to buy a house closer to me if it would make ME happy.

Then, we turned a corner.  He said how refreshing it was that I always got straight to the point when I wrote to him.  So,  why don’t we try talking on the phone, he asks?  He explained given his Special Forces status that the process to get in touch with him was not the typical Army process, and he provided me an email address.  He told me what to indicate about him when requesting phone contact, and instructed me to provide my name, address and cell phone number in the email as well.  And to copy/paste what I sent back to him so he could follow-up on his end.  Oh, and also with a note that I would be charged a one-time, temporary fee to my cell phone, but that the charge would drop once he and I were connected on the phone.  He explained this was just a deterrent so people didn’t try to contact Army Special Forces all the time.  

Are you still with me?

Well, I don’t know what swept over me, but when I saw the email address he provided (which ended in a ‘.us’), something in my gut prompted me to check into it further.  Every email address has a ‘@somedomain.something’ right?  A .net, .com, .us, etc.  Which should direct you to a website.  Well, I checked the ‘@’ domain info online and WHAMMO.

Something didn’t look right.  I’m no online content publishing expert, but the graphics looked slightly ‘off.’  And they were nowhere near the polished look of the US Army’s official website.  But it had all the ‘fine print’ hyperlinks you would expect to see at the bottom of a site page, including terms of use, privacy policy and whatnot, but something still didn’t seem right.

I did an online search on that domain name and immediately found a couple of blogs posting about scammers.  Scammers overseas who steal pictures of US soldiers (who are either alive or not, talk about morbid here). They use the stolen pictures to create fake online dating profiles…bascially, impersonating them!  I read on and on, fascinated.  And horrified.  The story I was told was TEXTBOOK content for what these scammers use.  They usually say they’re alone, widowed…and, bottom line, looking for money to be wired to them.  Money so they can fly home to take a leave, or money they need because the military won’t provide XYZ.

Now, I’m no expert in any of this, since what I’ve learned is less than 72 hours old in my own brain. BUT, here are two huge takeaways:

1. The US military will never EVER ask a civilian to pay for airfare to transport a soldier anywhere.  Anywhere in the world.  Absolutely not.

2. The US military does not use Western Union.  But that’s how most of these scammers want their $$ wired to them.

These guys are thieves, plain and simple!  I’m soooo glad I trusted my gut and checked the website info tied to the email address provided to me.  And I checked the fine print too – guess what?  All of the privacy policy and terms of use – all blank.  Or broken.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in any of this, and don’t want to post the email address I was provided.  But if you’d like more info, please message me!