(Update: Adding video, interview with woman targeted by scams)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Last year, nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam to the Federal Trade Commission, and losses totaled $1.3 billion. Many scammers target the military, falsely claiming to be servicemembers and targeting those who support the troops. A Redmond woman who was targeted wants to warn others.
The scammers create profiles with photos of actual members of the military. Once they get a response and develop an online dialogue, they might request cash for food, medical bills, or to visit the person who has become a target. Many claim to be stationed internationally — where they really are is often hard to tell.
Angelita Salinas of Redmond is a frequent Facebook user and says she’s been contacted by people using fake military profiles,
“In the back of my mind, I just kept saying, ‘This isn’t real, this isn’t real — it’s too good to be true,'” she said Thursday.
The scammers seek to develop a relationship and eventually ask for thousands of dollars.
To give an example of her encounters, Salinas showed us screenshots from an exchange in June.
“I want people to know that it’s a huge scam. People are getting scammed, here in Central Oregon,” she said.
The scammers reach out through dating sites and social media, stealing photos of real military members for their profiles, and request cash for food, medical bills, or to visit the person they are scamming,
“It lasted probably about four to five months of just conversing and building a relationship online,” Salinas said. “Apparently, this person is in Syria”
An Army recruiter in Oregon tells us the U.S. military has created a team to investigate reports of scammers. On its website, the Federal Trade Commission warns of military romance scams, offering advice on how to avoid them.
Salinas said she had suspicions and never lost any money, but she mentioned her experience to a business client who knew of a much worse situation.
“She said, ‘I have a friend that fell victim to fraud. Well, got scammed to the point where the lady lost her house and her vehicle,'” Salinas said. “And at that point, I just started playing this person.”
According to the FTC, scammers use a variety of words and phrases to hook people. They include:
-“Looking for an honest woman”
-“Their parents and partners, are deceased”
-“They are on a ‘peacekeeping’ mission”
-“They use language such as ‘my love’”
Salinas concluded with words of advice: “If you have a question about anything, report it, block and delete.”