The 2,600-person command Grey serves is in Quantico, Va., and it investigates felonies in which Army personnel are victims or perpetrators. Thus it lacks jurisdiction to probe the barrage of incoming calls, since the service personnel are not victimized beyond having their names and photos misappropriated.
Still, what Grey likens to a game of whack-a-mole has become a priority for him as he battles the problem through public education and media outreach. His agency warns online daters about what the Criminal Investigation Command calls a “growing epidemic.”
“It’s hard to put an exact number on it,” Grey says, “but it’s a booming business.”
According to Grey, there’s an easy step to avoid getting swept off your feet by a military impostor: If you’re on a dating site or app with someone claiming to wear this country’s uniform, ask to be sent an email from his or her military account. It will end not in .com or .org, but in .mil. “Privates to generals all have such emails,” Grey says.
As bad actors try to take advantage of women around the world — Grey says he has heard from victims in Great Britain, Japan, Australia and Canada — they’ll usually try to get around the email check by concocting another phony story, he says.
“The criminals will say, ‘I can’t — I’m on a top-secret mission,’ or ‘I don’t have a computer,’ ” according to Grey. “They’ll make up every excuse they can.”
As an infantryman who later became a combat correspondent and served in the first Gulf War, Grey knows better.
“Military members are taken care of in a military zone,” he says. “They have access to mail. If they’re not on patrol or in a firefight, they have access to cybercafes, Skype, and can communicate with their family.”
Grey has been battling military-romance scams for about six years. “I’ve been cussed out several times,” he says, describing calls from women who have “waited at the airport for someone who never showed up.”
Sometimes those who call the command are relatives alarmed by an online entanglement involving their mother or sister.
Cybercrooks also fabricate official-looking “military” documents to further their scams, typically seeking money or financial or personal information from the scam victim, Grey says.