When I met Christopher Smith Williams, he was stationed overseas in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was a military officer working as a Bomb Specialist there. He had already served his full term in the Army; this was a short term contractor gig. He was looking for a new life and wanted to find a woman to settle down and build it with.
I wasn’t very serious about him at first. I was still talking to other guys online and made that clear to him. None of the guys liked that but I wanted to be sure that whomever I chose to talk to exclusively would be a guy I felt compatibility with in core issues. Chris wanted me to be exclusive but he was understanding too. He would ask me about the other guys and let me tell him about his competition.
At one point, I got really spooked by one of the other guys because he asked me if I had a credit card. I immediately thought he was trying to scam me, and I told Chris about it.
Without even telling him, Chris knew I needed to see his face. He went 50 miles outside of camp to get to a safe room and video call me that night from a secure room.
The video was scratchy and wouldn’t connect right, but I caught a glimpse of him. He was even more handsome and humorous than his pictures implied. I couldn’t believe he would go out of his way to do something like that for me just because he knew I needed it. I was smitten.
Things Got Serious
I found myself on pins and needles to hear from him. I was always worried that silence meant something happened to him. He would affirm me that he felt “very comfortable” in his job and that “God had protected him this far” and would continue to do so till the end. He had less than a year left on his contract, so I determined to turn my fears to prayers. Every time I was scared for him, I prayed. He appreciated that. The angst I felt about his safety spoke volumes to me about my feelings for him too. Chris was quickly rising to the top of the pack, and I was ready to be exclusive with him.
Once I made the choice to just focus on Chris and let the other guys go, things got serious fast. Christopher Smith Williams really pursued me. He was texting me every day and talking about deep heart issues and values. We talked about stuff that mattered not just casual flirtations. I was attracted to him in so many ways. He was tall, athletic, had a good job, and shared my core values. He accepted me just as I was and respected my boundaries. He found me attractive and wanted intimacy with me but was willing to wait for sex. He was coming to meet me and, if all went well, we would be planning a wedding soon. He didn’t always say things right, but he sounded like someone worth my time and attention. He sounded perfect.
Things Got Fishy
I was caught up in a whirlwind romance and we were making plans to see each other in a month. I put together stuff for a care package and asked him for his address. He gave me an email address and said I had to get on an approved list with his commander. I thought that was understandable. Then he asked me to just send him a gift card because it would be easier to help him “get his needs”. He claimed care packages were intercepted by terrorists over there, and Amazon gift cards would be easier to use and get through the mail. He also claimed that Trump was holding his pay and he couldn’t buy all his needs.
His story smelled fishy enough that I contacted some active duty military friends and asked some questions. I also contacted a friend who would have done some work with his unit over there. They gave me specific things to ask and look out for. All of my friends seemed a hair trigger from pummeling Chris into next year, and I found myself having to filter and defend him already. They were mad about him, and I didn’t know why.
When I asked the questions my friends gave me, Chris gave me specifics that added up. But there was still something off: every time I asked him to explain his job, the response came back in broken English.
Trust but verify (him).–J. Tallent
I didn’t want to doubt Chris, but I had never really met him.
I didn’t know where to start to verify that what Chris told me was true, so I just immersed myself in as much military culture as I could find online. I read and watched countless videos and articles online about being the significant other of a military person. I searched constantly. I thought I was learning how to be a better mate for Chris.
I looked up some of the exact things that Chris had told me about himself. He had given me exact rank and unit information, but when I looked it up, the units didn’t match the divisions he claimed they were from. Furthermore, all of my active duty friends assured me that his rank did not make sense after 20 years of service.
I Googled the exact wording of his job descriptions and my heart sank. Each description had been taken from online websites such as Chron.com (an online newspaper that has no official tie to the military). Here is one of the descriptions I was able to prove was plagiarized.
Christopher and I had been chatting every day through Google Hangouts because he said it was easier than texting his satellite phone. I used a third-party search and searched his phone number. That’s when I discovered I had been texting a VOIP most likely out of Florida not Kabul, Afghanistan.
I Googled his name and found a picture of a romance scammer by his name. I discredited it because it didn’t look like him, but it did give me pause. None of the things people were saying about this Chris were what I was hearing online…but he did look a lot more like the guy I saw in the video.
I would have never imagined that I would become the target of a romance scam going after both my heart and my wallet. Realizing that Chris was most-likely a lie made me sick to my stomach. I didn’t even know that stolen valor (when a scammer poses as a military person) was a thing, and when it happened to me, I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I come from an Army background; I should have been able to see the lies.
If you Google the term, you will find out a lot of information about Stolen Valor. You’ll see that a 2013 law was put into place making it a Federal crime for “an individual to fraudulently hold oneself out to be a recipient of any of several specified military decorations or medals with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.“
You will find veteran organizations fighting by identifying fakers and notifying the public of this crime. The US Army–a branch of our military that is copied by fakers a lot–is aware of the crime and are trying to inform the public about it. Unfortunately, it isn’t hard to fake military service and we tend to fall for it in our ignorance of what it takes to live the military life.
No wonder my friends were ready to pummel Chris; they smelled a rat. They were respectful of my tender heart, but they knew enough to know that I wasn’t seeing the truth from this guy.
It takes the heart of a Warrior to find deception and take it down.stolenvalor.com
How To Catch A Scammer (updated 7-11-2019)
- If you think they are legit, have them email you from their .mil military email address. It’s pretty simple. If you are military at all, you have one…and you have it for life. The military does not use .com addresses. Chris never responded to this one, but if he was legit, his email would have confirmed his story. The address adjusts to whatever roll you are currently in, so it would have confirmed he was a military contractor. It never goes away, so the lack of compliance to this simple request was a sign that Chris was a scammer.
- If you think they are legit and they claim to be overseas, have them give you their APO address. Service members have special addresses to send things to when they are deployed. It’s not a physical address because they can’t give you that information; it’s like having a PO Box but different. If they are legitimately serving, they have one. Also, there is no such thing as needing to be on an approved list to send a package. Care packages are sent all the time to troops from people they don’t know that just want to show that they care. It makes no sense to only be able to receive stuff from approved senders. When I asked Chris for his APO address, he told me I would have to contact his commander and get on an approved list. The address for his commander was a .com address. The military does not use .com addresses. This was another sign that Chris was a scammer.
- Learn the lingo of military life and know more than they do about it. Scammers know they are doing the wrong thing long before you do, and they are counting on you being ignorant about what all that military stuff means. The more ignorant you are, the more they can get out of you. However, be careful not to correct them or give them more information. If they are scammers, they are most likely learning from you how to be better at what they do. Most scammers are believed to be working in teams in Nigeria doing this as their job. They rely on what they can get off the internet and from you to perfect their schemes, but the internet is faulty especially in issues of rank.
- Enlist your military friends for advice. Going off-book is the best thing I did to figure out the truth about Chris because nobody knows the current state of the military like an active service member. Ask someone that you know in the service if what you are being told sounds right. If you don’t know anyone in active service, do deeper research online on official military websites and blogs.
- If you still can’t find the answers you need, reach out to some military spouses. Military spouses are incredibly resourceful; if they don’t know the answer, they know where to find it. I had one military spouse friend arrange for a conference call with her husband to help answer my military questions.
- Educate yourself on the common lines. One thing the Internet is good for is getting the word out about something, and there are A LOT of things posted about romance scammers. The Army has been warning people for years against romance scams perpetuated in the name of a service member. Read their 2014 article here. Find out more about romance scams on non-profit sites and blogs dedicated to recovering from scammers. You can find actual claims they are using and see if what you are being told is a common thread being used by scammers. I caught some scammers even going so far as to use the same descriptions in multiple dating profiles and conversation threads.
- Stop entertaining them; report them. If you’ve gone far enough to care at all about this profile, this is the hardest thing to do. You really want to believe them. Even when you know they are liars, you might think you are doing good to talk to them because at least you are keeping them from hurting someone else. Their is an art to lying, and you are just helping them master it. Scammers take everything you tell them and use it to fine tune their craft. Fraudsupport.org and Army.mil recommend that you report a faker to the place you found him/her and to proper authorities. Furthermore, they suggest you follow procedures to secure yourself online. If you are a victim, file a claim today.
Healing From Victimization
It is sickening to think that some of these pictures are real soldiers who either died in action, went missing, or had their identities stolen AND women are still upset thinking a soldier did them wrong!
No one expects to be a victim. Whether you gave this person your heart, your trust, your wallet, or all of the above, it is going to take time to heal. Allow yourself the room to feel anger and discouragement, but don’t give up on life, love, and humanity in general. There are still a lot of good people out there in the world, and there are still legitimately lonely hearts looking for love online. Don’t give up hope completely. Just be cautious. Remember: trust, but verify.