Contact 6 warns against online romance ruse

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Looking for love online?  What if online love finds you? That's what nearly happened to Sue Jankowski.

'This picture pops up in the chat at the bottom and it's got a military soldier. An older man," Jankowski said.

Jankowski is happily married but received a message on Facebook from someone she had never met, or seen, before.  She says she was just chatting with friends when the "mystery man" started putting on the moves!

" 'I'd really like to meet you and I wish I could have someone like you.' All those little flirtatious things," Jankowski said.

Jankowski told him she could be no more than a friend and the two chatted for a couple of weeks.  That's when this so-called soldier asked his new friend a favor.

"When he asked for money, the red flag went up completely on that one," Jankowski said.

Money is where Jankowski drew the line, and her new friend simply disappeared.

" 'I'm not sending you anything.' That's when I went to Romance Scams" on Facebook and I found all kinds of stuff," Jankowski said.

"Military Romance Scams" is a Facebook page where you can find a lot of information about this kind of scam, including photos of real military members that have been used by imposters.

And they're not just found on Facebook.  Just search the Internet for "Military Romance Scam" and you'll find any number of sites warning people about how scammers use photos of real military members to trick you into sending money - in some cases, a lot of it.

"We do hear from victims," says the Consumer Protection Bureau's Sandy Chalmers, "and typically the loss to the victim is a pretty high dollar amount."

Chalmers says these kinds of romance scams can get very detailed and drawn out.

"It can be very difficult for the victim to recognize they're in a fraudulent relationship because the criminal spends so much time and puts so much effort into building that relationship. 'Oh, he would never scam me. We're in love,'" Chalmers said.

Even the U.S. Army has issued numerous warnings about the scam, but too often not reaching victims in time.

"I talked to one woman who had sent $78,000, had taken out a second mortgage on her home to a scammer.  I talk to women who have sent $500, $3000, $4,000 at a clip.  But I also talk to women who have seen our warnings on the internet and they are trying to find out if they've been scammed," U.S. Army's spokesperson for its Criminal Investigation Command, Christopher Grey said.

Now Jankowski is joining hundreds of other women online, talking about her experience and issuing her own warning about the real labor of finding online love!

"Just to accept a new friend, you can get in trouble," Jankowski said.

Be on the lookout for these warning signs: