In the summer ofBryan Denny received a peculiar message in his LinkedIn inbox. Recently retired after serving more than two and a half decades in the Army, including deploying as part of Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom, Denny had expected to encounter some uncomfortable situations in his transition to civilian life. But as they exchanged messages, he came to a more troubling realization: for several months, the woman had been in a full-fledged online relationship with a Col.
Bryan Denny who, it just so happened, looked just like him. Now, she was wondering where the hell he and her money had gone.
Nearly s with his name and face popped up, each of them displaying his neatly-coiffed gray hair and steady smile. Many included shots of him with his son, while others used images of Denny with his comrades overseas. The majority showed him in uniform during his final months of service. A lump formed in his throat as he took in one doppelganger after another. Maybe millions.
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Bryan Denny's military photos are ubiquitous on scam social s. Fighting back has proven hard, even for the combat veteran. Although many of the fake s used his real name, others took on aliases to better cover their tracks, making it all but impossible to hunt them down. With his reputation and, increasingly, his sanity on the line, Denny knew he had to take action. But he was a man used to battling insurgents in firefights, not nameless, distant hackers. Apple products are especially popular. The perpetrators often operate within intricate networks; many originate in Nigeria or Ghana, where outreach tactics, compelling backstories, and conversation strategies have been turned into a science.
If you've never met in person, it's not real love
By sticking to a formula and passionately professing their desire for a new life with their targeted victims, the scammers disarm and beguile their prey with razor-sharp precision. Just as important, these illicit organizations have stockpiled pictures and personas to bolster the credibility of their fake s and reel in victims with ease.
And yet, military romance scams are vastly underreported. Denny was astonished when he finally put the pieces together and realized what was happening.
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Opportunistic thieves, located oceans away, saw his service, patriotism and chiseled looks… and saw a perfect piece of man candy to dangle in front of eager female suitors. Denny suddenly saw how the deference, perks, and unadulterated praise soldiers receive in America could be exploited in terrible ways when love is on the table.
Ina German named Wilhelm Voigt, fresh out of prison after serving a lengthy sentence for theft and forgery, stepped into a military surplus store to initiate his greatest scheme yet. Though he was eventually apprehended, he became a folk heropraised for highlighting the blind obedience of his countrymen to authority. Military imposters have been prolific on our side of the pond, too.
As the th anniversary of the Civil War approached in the late s, Americans were captivated by a man named Walter Williams, who claimed to be years old and the last living veteran of the conflict. Williams was hardly alone in this act: lying about Civil War service was then a favored tactic of fraudsters looking for prestige and pensions. Compared to these examples, military romance scams have a distinctly disturbing — and, in many cases, sensual — flavor.
Unlike your more run-of-the-mill instances of stolen valor, these schemes involve assuming the identities of specific soldiers to make victims swoon. It worked: turns out plenty of women were drawn to the idea of a wholesome, sturdy country boy with a love of the outdoors and a sensitive side.
As the months passed, he began receiving phone calls from women who, desperate to track him down, had taken to searching for him in his home state. In a few cases, they even got hold of his parents. By lateDenny was receiving a weekly barrage of calls and messages from frenzied women.
Scammers try new methods to trick you all the time. but if you know the s to look for, you may avoid becoming a victim.
His wife and teenage son were getting contacted. Denny does credit Facebook for meeting with him several times since to discuss his situation. Cassandra Cross, an expert who has written extensively on the impact these ploys have on romance scam victims.
Though the odds are against him, Denny has continued to seek out executives at dating websites and social media providers to highlight the issue. They never suspect those things could be used for evil. Sharon Hughes, a year-old retired nurse and divorcee who now devotes her time to painting, is quick with a joke and has a jaunty, chipper laugh and a penchant for off-the-wall statements. Drawn to his good looks, she figured: What the hell? It was a big move for her.
She was elated. Within a few months, the two were soon exchanging several messages a day and contemplating starting a life together after he left the Army.
He got quite creative. They had begged her to stop, but she had already invested so much of herself into the relationship. There was no going back. His identity was just so appealing… real clean-cut, came from a wealthy family, liked nature.
I loved the picture of him with his horse. It feels dirty, wrong — but you feel like you need to. Although she finally ended things last spring, this victim has yet to tell her family the full story. Despite being a victim herself, she mostly feels sorry for Denny.
A couple of months ago, Denny decided to take a weekend trip with his family to a lakeside getaway near his home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Denny especially loves unplugging from the world, to get off the grid and away from all the victims — if only for a moment.
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The people responsible for these crimes are hiding behind keyboards thousands of miles away, protected by a labyrinthine web of fake s, stolen identities, and internet back alleys. Devin Nunes and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California — both of whom declined to comment on this story. Equipped with an arsenal of photos bearing his suave grin and a laundry list of sob stories, scammers are primed to cash in on his all-American appearance for years to come. Their target market? And there seems to be no shortage of willing marks.
Get the latest in military news, entertainment and gear in your inbox daily. Ryan Elliott Lt. Courtesy Bryan Denny Bryan Denny's military photos are ubiquitous on scam social s.
A brief history of military imposter scams Ina German named Wilhelm Voigt, fresh out of prison after serving a lengthy sentence for theft and forgery, stepped into a military surplus store to initiate his greatest scheme yet.