Image: Facebook page set up by impersonator
AP
This screenshot shows a Facebook page set up by a person impersonating Army Sgt. James Hursey and showing Facebook friend Janice Robinson. Hursey, 26, discharged and sent home from war in Iraq to nurse a back injury, found a page with his photos on Facebook — on a profile that wasn't his. It was fake, set up by someone claiming to be an active-duty soldier looking for love. The fake's cover was blown by Robinson after she had begun talking to him thinking he was one of several people named Mark Johnson that she knew.
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updated 2/27/2011 12:46:05 PM ET 2011-02-27T17:46:05

Scamsters are targeting women on Facebook in what's becoming an all-too-common ruse: They steal photos of soldiers to set up profiles, profess their love and devotion in sappy messages — and then ask their victims to cut a check.

Army Sgt. James Hursey, 26, discharged and sent home from war in Iraq to nurse a back injury, found a page with his photos on Facebook — on a profile that wasn't his. It was fake, set up by someone claiming to be an active-duty soldier looking for love.

Military officials say they've seen hundreds of similar cases in the past several years. Some of the impersonators have even used photos of soldiers who have died overseas.

"It's identity theft, really, if you think about it," said Hursey, of Corbin, Ky., a married father of a 2-year-old.

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The impersonator using Hursey's photos portrayed himself as a soldier named "Sergent (sic) Mark Johnson." The fake followed the same steps every time: Send a friend request, immediately express undying love and affection, and ask for money.

The fake's cover was blown, though: Janice Robinson, 53, of Orlando, Fla., knew something wasn't right when the man professed his love to her and signed every message with, "Johnson cares." She had begun talking to him thinking he was one of several people named Mark Johnson that she knew.

"I said, 'How can you say you love me? You don't even know me. You are insane,'" she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "... You could tell the guy in the picture was young. I'm 53 years old. You can look at my picture and tell I'm not 20."

Her story was first reported by WYMT-TV in Hazard, Ky., and WKMG-TV in Orlando.

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Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., said the Internet impersonators often make ridiculous claims. Some say they need money for special laptops and cell phones. Others say they need cash to buy special papers to come home on leave or a registration form because military officials won't let them talk to family.

"Well, there is no such thing," Grey said. The papers are phony, often poorly doctored versions of actual military documents.

The person using Hursey's photographs sent Robinson what he called a form to register to be able to speak to the soldier on the telephone. He told her it would cost $350 for them to be able to communicate by phone.

The form, a poorly doctored copy of a common Army form used to correct information in a soldier's official record, included a blank to fill in the intended victim's social security number.

Robinson said she knew people didn't have to register to talk to soldiers and refused to fill out the form. She also refused his requests to wire money and send credit card and bank account numbers.

Instead, she contacted a local television reporter and Hursey, whose name was visible in the phony profile's photos.

"I just wanted to see exactly how far this would go and I wanted to protect people ... that aren't as savvy to scams as I am and don't pick up on this stuff," Robinson said.

Grey said there are no known instances of Army personnel losing money in such scams. But the victims have. In one case, a person lost some $25,000, he said. Because many scams originate in foreign countries, military officials can do little except offer advice about the scams and direct victims to agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

The scammers use untraceable e-mail addresses, route accounts through international locations, and use pay-per-hour Internet cyber-cafes that also make it difficult to trace them, Grey said.

The Army encourages anyone who suspects they are being used in a scam to file a report with their local police as well as report the cases to agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

Only one state, California, has made online impersonation a crime, said Tim Senft, founder of Facecrooks.com, a website that focuses on scams via social media. The law makes impersonating someone online a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

Hursey, who had been based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, said has no clue who concocted the scheme or why he was targeted.

The fake profile featured several photos of Hursey: After basic training, in Iraq and decked out in his military dress uniform. There was even a picture of his dog. Some of the photos apparently were taken from his mother's Facebook page, Hursey said.

"I think it's pathetic that someone is going to impersonate a soldier to try to get money from women," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Women scammed in new Facebook scheme

  1. Closed captioning of: Women scammed in new Facebook scheme

    >> careful who you friend on facebook . some con artists are posing as american soldiers to scam people out of their money. we'll try to explain. the swindlers set up a fake profile, complete with stolen photographs and false information. they contact a woman and after gaining her trust and love online, they ask for money. some of these folks are even using pictures of soldiers who have died overseas. joining us now is nbc analyst and former fbi profiler, clint van zandt . the more you learn about this, the uglier it is. if you can help us explain. effectively, this is identity theft. who are they really targeting?

    >> absolutely. well, it's a number of different people. by and large, it's vulnerable individuals, either men and women, usually women across the united states who are either looking to befriend a servicemen, who wouldn't if we received mail from somebody in iraq or afghanistan who said, i want to talk, wouldn't do that back and forth. but what we're seeing happen quickly is someone, usually from russia, philippines or you and i and everybody knows the nigerian scams that have been around, they try to get you to send money, your checking account , something like that, and in this case, someone will purport they're trying to develop friendship with you, they'll send pictures like we're looking at now saying i'm a soldier, i need friends, and then all of a sudden you're writing back and forth, and you've got a relationship going.

    >> clint, you've been writing on this topic, saying the victims have lost tens of thousands of dollars. in one case $25,000. let me show you what facebook has said, in response to this. there's nothing more important to us than the safety and security of the people who use facebook . it's a violation of our policies to impersonate someone and we disable fake accounts when they're reported to us. but ultimately, it's up to each one of us as individuals to say if someone's asking me for money and i don't know them, you better ask a couple extra questions, right?

    >> yeah. if it sounds too good, it probably is. it's the old song, looking for love in all the wrong places. if you're finding it on the internet,en and you don't know who purports within a week or two all of a sudden they love you, they're saying please send me money so i can get a phone card, buy a compute, buy an airplane ticket and see you, or sent you a form and say fill it out and the military will let me call you, all you have to do is write down your name, address, social security number , peter, there should be red flags going off all over. the old thing again, if it sounds too good, if this person sounds too good to be true, it's probably a fake. you shouldn't walk away from it, you should run from it.

    >> taking advantage of the american soldiers ultimately. it's their reputation, too.

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