U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s (CID) Computer Crime Investigative Unit (CCIU)
is once again warning Soldiers and the Army community to be on the lookout for
“social media scams” where cybercriminals impersonate service members by using actual and fictitious
information, not just for “trust-based relationship scams,” also known as Romance Scams, but for other
impersonation crimes such as sales schemes and advance fee schemes.
“By monitoring your social media identity, you can protect your Army family and your reputation,” said
Special Agent Daniel Andrews, CCIU director. “The criminals will use factual data from official websites and
Soldiers’ personal social media sites, then prey on vulnerable people’s trusting nature and willingness to help
Frequently, CID receives notifications from individuals stating they were scammed online by someone
claiming to be a Soldier, but in reality it was an online scammer who has used an unsuspected Soldier’s name
and available social media photos to commit a crime.
No one is immune from becoming a victim. Scammers steal the identity of senior officers, enlisted personnel
and civilians. Scammers, using this information from legitimate profiles, will capitalize on the trustworthy
reputation of individuals associated with the Army.
According to experts, mitigating fraudulent social media is not simple and there is no definitive way to stop
criminals from using your personal data and photos. CID officials say that the ideal solution is to limit the
details you provide about yourself in your social media profile. Additionally, Soldiers should take of advantage
of all security and safety features and protocols offered on their social media accounts.
Another tip is to routinely search for your name on various social media platforms. Since scammers may use
your photo but change the name, you should also conduct an image search of your social media profile
“Carefully scrutinize the pictures you post of yourself or are posted by others for revealing details like your
name tag, unit patch and rank,” Andrews said. “Creating a profile display name other than your actual name
makes it more difficult for people who do not know you well to find your profile and fraudulently use your
social media identity.”
If you find yourself or a family member being impersonated online, CID warns that you should take immediate
steps to have the fraudulent sites removed. Victims should contact the social media platform (company) and
report the false profile.
Keep in mind that criminals create impersonation accounts to look just like the real account of a service
member by using very similarly spelled names and replacing characters with dashes, spaces, and/or homoglyph
characters. Be on the lookout for simple changes such as zeros (0) used instead of the letter “O” or a number
one (1) instead of the letter “l.”
“Always remember that effectively searching yourself requires creativity because of the misspelled names and
other identifying information slightly different to disguise the criminal activity or just because the scammer
doesn’t have command of the English language,” CID officials said. “Criminals will hijack photographs found
on the Soldiers official and personal social media page and create a similar or identical biography.”
Officials also warned that impersonations can be classified as Confidence Based/Romance Relationship, Sales
Schemes or Advance Fee Schemes.
Confidence Based/Romance Relationship: Scammers defraud victims by pretending to be service members
seeking romance or in need of emotional support and companionship. In these scams, cybercriminals often
derive information for their fictionalized military personas from official military websites and social
networking websites where military families post information about their loved ones. Scammers gather enough
detailed personal information, including pictures, to concoct believable stories tailored to appeal to a victim’s
emotions and then lure unsuspecting victims (most often women) into sending money to help them with
transportation costs, marriage processing expenses, medical fees, communication fees such as laptops and
satellite telephones. They typically promise to repay the victim when they finally meet; however, once the
victim stops sending money, the scammer is not heard from again.
Sales Schemes: Most frequently carried out on sites that facilitate sales of various products, scammers lure
victims by offering goods well below market price. Most scams involve vehicle sales, house rentals or similar
big-ticket items. The scammer advertises an item for sale, at a to-good-to-be-true price, and describes it in the
broadest of terms. A person showing interest is soon contacted by the “seller” who claims to be a service
member with a military unit that is being deployed abroad. The scammer uses the pending deployment to
explain the need for a quick sale and, hence, the below market sales price. The scammer insists that money
changes hands quickly using some untraceable and irrevocable means such as Western Union, MoneyGram or
gift cards. The merchandise is never received and the scammer is not heard from again.
Advance Fee Schemes: These schemes defraud potential victims by promising big profits in exchange for help
in moving large sums of money (or gold, oil, or some other commodity or contraband). Claiming to be highranking or well-placed government/military officials or the surviving spouse of former government leaders, the
perpetrators offer to transfer significant amounts of money into the victim’s bank account in exchange for a
small fee. Some use photographs and biographical information of high-profile American military officials
obtained from the internet. Scammers that receive payment are never heard from again.
“The Computer Crime Investigative Unit has found that the longer an imposter account is active, the greater
the likelihood of misleading others,” Andrews said. “Protect yourself by conducting internet searches on
yourself and your family. Expediency is paramount.”
For more information about computer security, other computer-related scams and to review previous cybercrime alert notices and cyber-crime prevention flyers visit the Army CID website at http://www.cid.army.mil/cciu-advisories.html.