Behind lonely troops lurks an online con featuring fake IDs, photos

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2013 - 9:28 AM

Minnesota woman’s military know-how helped her avoid dating site scam.

GoodSoul87 said he was just looking for love, but it didn’t take long for Debby Wadsworth to figure out he was after something else.

When she signed up for an online dating site called CountryMatch.com, the Maple Grove woman got an almost immediate hit from GoodSoul87. He described himself as a muscular 6-foot, 50-year-old nonsmoker, nondrinker from Georgia. He told her he was looking for a woman and, more importantly, a friend: “One to whom you can pour out all the contents of your heart.”

They began an online correspondence that quickly got personal — and potentially costly.

If not for her suspicions, Wadsworth may have fallen victim to an increasingly common scam that has targeted thousands of women online: promises of love from American men serving in the military that turn out to be fake. While the courtship is all very real, the goal is not romance, but money. The end result is often heartache and financial hardship.

“They’ve perfected their crafts,” said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Division, which has investigated hundreds of complaints, particularly in the past three years. “Some of the e-mails I’ve seen, some of the love letters they write, they are very compelling arguments. People fall in love.”

Who wouldn’t have felt a tingle from the story of Staff Sgt. Ricky James?

When Debby first started corresponding with him in October 2012, his narrative was compelling. He was an open-minded person who accepts people as they are. Stationed with the United Nations on a peacekeeping mission in Iraq, he was in the Army Reserve doing dangerous explosive disposal work. He was about to retire and wanted to settle down with his soul mate, go on a long vacation and, later, start his charity project.

“I am an open book, so just ask me and I will answer OK Babe,” he e-mailed her during one of their initial correspondences.

He asked for a computer, but she refused. He asked for an iPad. She refused. She did offer to send him a care package. He asked for Lacoste T-shirts (medium), sandals (size 10), a watch, pen drives and, of course, a picture of her in a big frame.

She sent him $20 worth of toiletries. He had suggested that the package be sent through a diplomat in Ghana to speed things up. When it got there, she got a call at 3 in the morning from the “diplomat” telling her he needed $100 to clear customs.

“He was always going into, ‘We had a real dangerous day today. I hope you are praying for me.’ Drama, drama, drama,” she said. “He was as romantic as he could get. Within a week, he was supposedly smitten and in love with me. I’m not that stupid.”

Wadsworth, a former member of the military herself, saw that things didn’t add up. He wrote that he was a staff sergeant.

But a picture of the chiseled-chin soldier showed that he was a first sergeant.

She discovered that the unit he said he was assigned to was in the Air Force, not the Army.

Finally, he fessed up

Persistent and suspicious, she kept the correspondence going. At one point, she confronted him about the discrepancies in his rank.

He changed the subject and asked about her dog. She pointed out that he did not answer her question. He responded: “I am tired, how about if we discuss tomorrow.”

Eventually she got the person on the other end of the connection to fess up.

  • related content

  • Debby Wadsworth

  • What to look out for

    • If you start an online relationship, check the person out.

    • Never send money.

    • Be suspicious if you never get to speak with the person on the phone or are told you cannot write or receive letters.

    • Many claims about a lack of support and services for military troops overseas are not true — check the facts.

    • Be alert to common spelling, grammatical or language errors in e-mails.

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