An online lothario is accused of using pictures of a fallen Medal of Honor recipient to seduce and scam a California woman.
The woman, whom Army Times is not identifying, said she sent nearly $10,000 to someone who claimed to be “Johnson Mark Brown,” a fictitious deployed soldier who told her he would marry her. In a dating site profile, he used the memorial photos of Staff Sgt. Robert James Miller, a Green Beret who was given the military’s highest honor “for gallantry and intrepidity” in the 2008 battle in which he died.
Brown, whose true identity is unclear, posted photos of Miller as his own profile pictures on dating websites and claimed to her that he was a secret agent hunting terrorists in Nigeria. Eventually, she became suspicious with inconsistencies in his stories.
The woman, who said she spoke on the telephone and corresponded with Brown for six months, came forward because she was heartbroken and wanted to keep other women from falling for the same con, she said. Brown had romanced her, sold her a hard-luck tale and broke contact after she voiced her suspicions and stopped sending him money, she said.
“I don’t want him to do with [other]ladies what he did to me,” said the 35-year-old preschool teacher in San Bernadino, Calif., who asked that her name not be used. “Please help me to stop him to continue hurting more ladies.”
Miller’s status as a fallen hero is a heart-wrenching twist on the familiar soldier-romance scam.
According to C.J. Grisham, a soldier and blogger who assists victims of such scams, soldiers wary of identity theft are securing their social media profiles, leaving con men to seek publicly released photos like Miller’s or of senior officials such as Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler.
“The scammers don’t care who they’re imitating,” Grisham told Army Times. “Because soldiers are protecting their personal photos, locking down their Facebook profiles, more and more, the scammers are turning to public figures whose photos were released through Army channels.
Miller, 24, of Wheaton, Ill., was killed during a nighttime patrol with Afghan troops in Kunar province on Jan. 25, 2008, when a much larger force of insurgents opened fire. Miller, of 3rd Special Forces Group, drew enemy fire away from his team and onto himself during a near-ambush.
He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2010 in a White House ceremony attended by his parents. They declined to comment for this article.
Brown used photos of Miller on horseback or toting a weapon in full battle rattle. He wrote emails full of poetry and kind words to romance the woman, and after two months, proposed marriage.
“I fell in love with that guy. He always talked to me with a lot of love,” she said. “He told me he loved me and wrote me a lot of poems.”
His requests for money began after only a few weeks, first for $500. At one point, he claimed he needed money for food, which he said the Army was not providing. As he was supposedly redeploying home, the woman received an email claiming her phony fiance had been in a car accident, and also received bills for his hospital care.
“He said he wanted more money, but I told him I need a break from you, I’m fed up with you,” she said.
She has since filed a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. She said she is awaiting a reply.