KUSA - Joanne* sent me an urgent email earlier this month about a "life and death" situation for a U.S. soldier. This soldier, she said, had served in Afghanistan and had been abandoned by the military.
Joanne wrote: "I don't know where to turn to for help anymore. If you can't help me, please lead me to the right direction. This soldier is now in a prison cell isolated in India for no reason at all. If anyone really cares, PLEASE HELP"
This guy was either in the middle of an international incident or this woman had been ensnared in an elaborate scam.
I asked her more questions:
How did she know the soldier? Online romance (RED FLAG)
Had they talked on the phone? Never (RED FLAG)
Did she wire money? Yes (RED FLAG)
What was his military unit? She was unsure (RED FLAG)
At this point, I contacted the Army's national personnel office to get some clarification. I sent a link to the soldier's Facebook page and copies of Joanne's emails. Within minutes, my phone rang. The voice on the other end announced "This is the Pentagon." Pentagon officials were able to quickly confirm they had two people in the Army with the name I gave, but both were safely in the United States. They told me with certainty that Joanne's soldier was really an unknown fraudster, likely operating from overseas, who made up months of personal details solely to swindle her.
A few days later Joanne came to the 9News studios to do an interview about the soldier romance scam. However, she was ready to back out. In her most recent online discussion with her "soldier", he gave her new details to prove his identity, including names of relatives and former addresses. We spent the next couple of hours using online background check tools to try to verify this latest story. We found his last home address was really an office building next to the Nordstrom's on Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago. We could find no record of anyone with his mother's name living in the California town she was supposed to live. We found the same story for a niece who was supposed to live in Texas. Plus, the alleged soldier, who said he wanted to marry Joanne, was unwilling to provide a social security number to her.
I think I broke her heart that day. Joanne says she's both disappointed and embarrassed, but she also wanted to warn other women to prevent more victims of military romance scams.
*Name has been changed to protect Joanne's true identity.