Military Scam Alert: ‘Be Mine’ Takes on New Meaning

4 minute read

Thanks in large part to awareness campaigns and alerts put out just before Valentine’s Day by U.S. Government organizations such as Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) and Federal Bureau of Investigation local field offices, there was an abundance of local news coverage in February warning the public about romance scams. Unfortunately, we aren’t seeing financial losses from romance scams diminish. 

Losses in the billions

According to data published in last week’s FTC Data Spotlight on Romance Scams, total losses from romance scams appear to have flatlined from 2021 to 2022, yet losses compared to just a couple of years ago have soared into the billions. According to FTC: 

Romance scam losses from all its Sentinel sources by year are as follows: $493M (2019), $730M (2020), $1.3B (2021) $1.3B (2022). 

This report, as with most others, includes a disclaimer that losses reported reflect just a small fraction of the public harm, because the vast majority of frauds are not reported to the government.

Until we get a better understanding of the mass volume of impersonations taking place and recognize them for what they are — coordinated cyberattacks by threat actors and organized crime groups — these numbers will continue to move in the wrong direction.  

The prime target (and tactic)

In U.S. military circles, in particular, we have seen a sharp and steady increase in the number of impersonations year over year. To help put it in perspective, ZeroFox completed 91,729 takedowns of impersonated accounts for our U.S. military customers in 2022 – almost double (47,846) the takedowns completed in 2021. So far in February alone, ZeroFox has submitted over 7,000 takedowns of impersonating accounts for just ONE military organization. In February of last year, we submitted 4,330 for the same organization. As the lead DoD account director, one of my jobs is to help our military customers raise awareness of this pervasive threat targeting military communities, so that we can eventually see the numbers start to come down.

The U.S. military persona qualifies as both the most vulnerable and most effective tactic used by romance scammers for a variety of reasons, i.e. they are a trusted persona, their financial institutions process transactions faster than what is standard, and of course the most obvious reason, they often operate in faraway locations. 

Similar to other reports I come across, this month’s FTC Spotlight identified the use of a military persona as one of the most effective ways of scamming others. Overseas military assignment is named as the most popular excuse as to why an impersonator cannot meet his victim in person. 

Love actually

The best way for us to show love and appreciation for U.S. military and their families is to do our best to protect them. With that, the U.S. military should be the top priority when it comes to the government’s education and technology investments. 

As we close out the month of February, it’s important to highlight what can be done to reduce the devastating financial, reputational, and other losses from romance scams. As a society, we are showing improvement in the area of awareness. But, while education and awareness efforts are a critical part of disrupting an immensely lucrative (and global) cybercrime operation, combatting attacks at mass scale can only be effective when education is combined with automated protection. 

Dedicated to the mission

Agency security teams rely on ZeroFox to enhance technology and workflows as their digital footprint expands and the threat environment evolves. From detection and analysis to automated remediation and takedown capabilities, the ZeroFox solution provides the benefits of state-of-the-art tools and highly trained staffs, delivered in a scalable services model. 

I am excited by all that ZeroFox is doing to support our military customers. In addition to continually improving our platform for optimal use, last year, we took on the role of facilitating a federal working group that meets on a quarterly basis. The group’s mission is to empower members to make DoD leadership less vulnerable to impersonation by optimizing the Service Protection Programs through increased cross-service collaboration and education. In fact, this cross-collaboration concept was so well received by members in its first year that we plan to expand the membership beyond the DoD in 2023 to include civilian agencies. Advancing this group’s mission is what drives me on a daily basis.

Another ZeroFox resource that has been instrumental in educating military service members as well as those Congressional leaders who are tackling the challenge legislatively, is the 1st and 2nd editions of our Military Impersonation report. The report does a great job of outlining the military threat landscape, how romance scams have evolved, and what organizations, individuals, and policy-makers can do to better combat these threats.

If you or one of your family members has been targeted, or worse, has been a victim of a romance scam, please make sure to download Impersonation Warfare: Top Military Scams and How to Avoid Getting Caught in the Line of Fire

Tags: Military

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