«But he is a soldier, and so lonesome!»

Liisa Tagel
, välisuudiste toimetaja
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Photo: Erakogu

«Thanks you a lot for receiving me into your life and I’m very much happy too so I found the best woman in the world. I have very much good feelings for you and this keeps me alive. I am a loving and honest man and I promise you will never regret meeting me when I am at home,» reads the English of a most romantic man on the planet.

You met over the Internet – on Facebook or some dating portal. Probably, he was the one to contact you. He is a US soldier, perhaps even an officer. A look at the pictures reveals him to be very handsome and in excellent shape. Alas, he serves in some difficult circumstances, in Afghanistan or Nigeria or on peacekeeping mission South-Korea, say.

«Do Americans tend to be that dramatic? And to use superlatives without ever seeing me in real life?» asks an Estonian lady, a bit suspicious, in an Estonian forum. Though some replies suggest that may be true and the soldier is so lonesome, away from folks at home and battle stressed, the lady soon realises something is wrong.

The profile of the «soldier» may be ever so charming. He is divorced or a widow, about your age, he has a child he deeply cares for but can’t be together with, and he cares very much about the very you while expressing that constantly. Perhaps, you have written back and forth for months. He is writing you are his princess, his queen, his chick and his baby.

Possibly, also, at a certain point in time he needs a little support – this is where the aforementioned lady realised the courtship wasn’t sincere –, they are having it tight at the mission; he might need a telephone to be able to talk to you, but at times he needs just some everyday items.

Turns out also that he might get a leave soon, but in order for that to happen you must communicate with his superior and slip him some money, let’s say a couple of thousand bucks. The formalities aren’t too difficult – you send a letter, then the sum specified, and that’s that. After that, however, the soldier’s misfortunes seem to multiply. Things keep happening in a row and he is hindered greatly from getting the leave. And the need for money increases.

Foul play

It’s not really US soldiers, of course. Rather, the cheats may sit in any corner of the world, using Internet pictures of real soldiers – and, on occasions, the real names and personal data, causing trouble for the army. Still, oops, sometimes the photos posted to a profile may not consistently be of the same man...

Often, the love letters are produced by a gang, and the addressees may be in the hundreds. It may be happening in any Internet cafe in Nigeria, or indeed in USA.

This is «romance scam», an especially vile version of the traditional Nigerian scam. At that, the additional touch may be that the writer has, for good service or some other a bit darker way, has obtained a larger sum of money, and, to get it into a safe place, he needs the help by you, his dear sweetheart.

The usual «I’m writing to you as a trustworthy person, as I have inherited thirty two million dollars» usually plays on pure human greed, but the crooks – posing as US soldiers or some other dignified professionals – will usually also use the victims emotionally.

While a letter simply promising the money makes one essentially an accomplice, then a romance scam victim is lured to believe she has encountered genuine feelings. As the thing unravels, however, people may feel very much humbled and shamed.

As a rule, the victims are picked from among such as are judged by social site information to be above average vulnerable. A main target group, therefore, are single women above 50, preferably widows, as in that age they might have some money.

Postimees knows of an Estonian lady, in said target group, who for months has been writing with a «soldier» who stirred her compassion being a widow, an orphan, and having to keep serving his fatherland while not paid a decent salary. Sure enough, the correspondence birthed passionate feelings. Already, the woman has communicated with «the superior of the soldier» who has asked to transfer the money to formalise the leave.

And, already, the lady has transferred some few hundred euros as the man claims his life is hard and he is not getting paid. The woman isn’t stupid at all, yet she wants to believe she’s indeed found a new life’s companion – therefore, the version of her being fooled does not fit.

Highly likely, though, her prince is a cheat. Practically everywhere, the US military and embassies have been dealing with stories like that. Advice to victims and those suspecting fraud are offered on websites of army and government alike. 

The US embassy in Tallinn told Postimees that even here they have met victims of such fraud, but have not been compiling statistics. The consul Lisa Cross says they can offer a little help, though, in case of suspicions – anyone communicating in Internet with an alleged US soldier may inquire at the embassy if a soldier like that has indeed dispatched to the said location. «Anyway, people should never send money to anyone they have not met personally,» underlined Ms Cross.

Frauds abound

To possible victims, the US army would remind that the real soldiers on missions are paid good wages, no matter the location. Thus, asking for money should be a certain sign of danger.

To assist romantic scam victims, lots of websites have been set up, offering support and, if needed, confirmation that the «loving soldiers» are crooks indeed. And the victims are many, all over the world. One thing they would stress to anyone communicating over the Internet: never share personal data – this is what they choose victims by.

As confirmed by Estonian police, they do encounter people victimised by scam, while also lacking separate statistics. They said, though, that this year they have already had victims contact them. In 2010, however, they talked about 200 scam letter victims, and of 90 in 2011.

As underlined by Northern Prefecture crimes-against-persons service chief Roger Kumm, the so-called Nigerian scam is rather familiar by now. But there are other schemes, like hijacking e-mail addresses and sending pleas for help in the name of an acquaintance.

Posing as US soldiers has become especially popular as related to widely known missions.

«A crook attempts to become intimate with a victim over the Internet, then to ask for money. Speaking about the amounts lost, at times it has been thousands of euros,» says Mr Kumm, adding that the scam offences are mainly committed from abroad – in Estonia, nobody has been arrested with such suspicions.