Internet impostors are co-opting the identities of well-known soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in bids to scam people out of thousands of dollars, according to Army reports.
One scam artist on a dating website called oasis.com last month claimed to be Lewis-McChord senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who is currently deployed to Afghanistan as the war’s deputy commander.
The impersonator wanted a woman to give him about $6,000 – cash he said was necessary to help him get a package of cash, medals and uniforms out of Kabul. It was similar to a pitch a Taiwanese woman fell for last month when she sent $30,000 to a person who claimed to be former Afghan War commander Gen. David Petraeus, according to press reports from Taipei.
The Army urges people who receive those kinds of requests to assume they are fraudulent.
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“Senior leaders would never solicit money for any reason, and all social media posts or emails stating otherwise are scams,” said Army I Corps spokesman Maj. Chris Ophardt, who answers to Scaparrotti and saw the report about the general’s impersonator.
Army Criminal Investigative Division spokesman Chris Grey said soldier romance scams usually originate in Nigeria or Ghana. They share common themes, such as an impostor telling a potential romantic partner on a dating website that he needs money to get home from a war zone.
Grey grew so concerned about romance scams last year that he sounded the alarm by contacting women’s magazines and other media outlets to encourage people to think twice before sending money to a stranger who presents himself as a service member.
“The victims on this end are putting up emotion and giving up money. We’re trying to stomp it out wherever we can,” he said.
Since the media blitz last year, Grey said the number of schemes has declined somewhat. He still finds troubling stories, such as a victim who called CID this week to say she’d sent $12,000 to someone who said he was going to meet her at an airport on his way from Iraq. Instead, the “soldier” claimed he was injured in a convoy attack and he needed money for medical expenses.
“She was telling me this story, and I finished it for her,” Grey said.
Well-known soldiers, such as Scaparrotti, are inviting targets for scammers because the impostors can glean photographs or personal details from public information that would help them fool a victim, Grey said.
The fake Scaparrotti, for example, used a News Tribune photo from an interview last fall for his romantic profile, according to the scam report.
“He is a very smooth talker, and at first I didn’t distrust it,” the near-victim wrote in a post that caught the Army’s attention on a website that exposes so-called romance scams.
The real Scaparrotti is married and has two children.
Other scammers have pretended to be Lewis-McChord’s Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who gained fame this summer when he was awarded a Medal of Honor for the “conspicuous gallantry” he demonstrated in the Afghan war with his fellow soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
“Yesterday, I went looking for Sgt. 1st Class Petry. I found two, and I took them down,” Staff Sgt. Dale Sweetnam, who works in the Army’s Social Media Division, told The Army Times this week. “When I go looking for them, I usually find them.”