When Sergeant James Hursey clicked through photos of himself on Facebook, he wasn’t filled with the tenderness and recollection users normally feel when perusing their online photo albums. Instead, he felt startled and confused.
That’s because the pictures weren’t his. Though the images were indeed of Hursey, the profile displaying the photos wasn’t his. Instead, his images were captured under the name “Sergent (sic) Mark Johnson,” a now recognized Facebook scammer.
“I thought it was one of my Army buddies playing a joke on me, but then I started finding more about it and it turned out to be true” Hursey said in an interview with The Times Tribune. Apparently, the con artist had taken the pictures from Hursey’s mother’s Facebook account and uploaded them as his own.
According to ABC news, online identity theft is becoming more common. Scammers create fake profiles using images of men serving overseas. They send friend requests to women, profess their love, and proceed to ask for money. A lot of money. Some scammers even create profiles using images of soldiers who have died overseas while serving.
No one knows how much money “Sergent Johnson” has cyber seduced out of women. It wasn’t until fifty-three-year old Janice Robinson altered authorities after “Johnson” added her as a friend on Facebook and asked her to wire him $350 – the cost, he claimed, for paperwork that would enable them to speak on the phone. He then sent her a mock military form which asked Robinson for personal information like her social security number.
Robinson, and Orlando resident, says she immediately knew that something was wrong. She refused to send information or money, and instead alerted authorities.
Despite the indisputable evidence proving “Johnson” is, in fact, a scammer, it’s very difficult to track down impersonators like him because they use untraceable e-mail addresses and pay-per-hour internet cafes.
Apparently, Johnson’s isn’t the first army impersonator on the social network. In an interview with ABC news Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir, said that internet scammers often ask for ridiculous things, claiming they need money for special equipment like laptops and phones, or funding to come home because the military won’t let them.
“It’s bad that I fought for my country and someone is using my Army pictures to steal from wome” says Hurse. Because of the newness of social media, there’s very few laws surrounding Facebook identity theft. According to Tim Senft, the founder of Facecrooks.com, an website focused on social media crime, California is the only state that has laws in place making online impersonation illegal. In California, it’s a criminal offense to use somebody else’s name and images and claim them as your own, and offenders can be sentenced to one year in jail and fined $1,000.
While recent media articles surrounding the Facebook scams portray Sergeant Hersy as the victim, little has been said about the women who’ve fallen prey to “Johnson’s” scams. He targets middle -aged single women and portrays himself as a lonely soldier looking for love.
Hursey’s wife, Amber, was disheartened to learn someone has stolen her husband’s identity online. “It’s upsetting because my husband did go to Iraq and got hurt” she says, “and this guy is claiming it happened to him. He didn’t have to go through what we went through.” Needless to say, the Hursey family has altered their Facebook privacey settings in order to avoid having any more pictures stolen.