HOUSTON - Scam artists are using pictures of U.S. soldiers to trick people into thinking they are falling in love, so the scammers can get the victims to send money and expensive gifts, as Local 2 Investigation has found.
"He told me he was in love with me. His wife had died a few years ago," Dorothy McDougal said.
She met a person claiming to be Sgt. Major Raymond F. Chandler III on an online dating website. He said his wife had died and he wanted to retire soon with someone special.
"He said he was a high ranking officer in Afghanistan," McDougal said.
The person sent her several pictures of Chandler. McDougal even Googled the pictures and discovered they were images of the real Chandler.
"After a week he started saying how serious he was. Then he asked for a favor," McDougal said.
The person claiming to be Chandler wanted McDougal to send him an iPhone 5s.
"He said he wasn't allowed to have a phone and he needed me to send him one so he could hear my voice," McDougal said.
The person wanted McDougal to send the iPhone to a diplomat at an address in Sweden. The diplomat was supposedly going to send the phone on to Chandler.
Harris County sheriff's detective Sgt. Michael Ellison said he has seen scam artists work like this before.
"They present a picture to them, something that is very appealing of course," Ellison said.
One woman came forward to deputies to say she had sent a man $75,000. Another woman sent thousands too thinking she had found the love of her life.
"He said, ‘If you send me money, I will come to Houston and marry you.' What ended up happening? She sent him $50,000 and, of course, he never showed up," Ellison said.
Experts say scammers scour social media, collecting real pictures of all types of guys to create a luring profile for each victim.
Local 2 Investigative reporter Jace Larson did some investigating into claims made by McDougal's man.
Sgt. Major Chandler is a real person. His wife is still living. Online pictures show her visiting an Army base earlier this year.
Local 2 tracked the address where the iPhone was to be mailed to a Swedish/Finish school in Sweden. There are no visible signs for diplomatic offices shown on a Google image of the complex's entrance. The Google images are a few years old.
Information embedded in the scam artist's email header shows he was sending the emails from Ghana, Africa, not Sweden or Afghanistan.
"Red flags should start going up when a conversation is transitioning from love to money," Ellison said.
Most times police departments do not have the money or resources to track down a scam artist in Africa. Even if they did, Ellison says they would not likely be able to charge romance scammers with a crime.
"It's almost impossible to file charges against them." Ellison said. "It's strictly because the money is sent voluntarily."
Ellison said the only thing a romance scam artist is promising his victim is love. That isn't against the law.
That is different from other scams such as a scam artist claiming a person won the lottery. In those instances, a scam artist may require money to pay for taxes in exchange for the full lottery winnings.
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