PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Retired Colonel Bryan Denny says he served more than 25 years in the Army to protect people, but he’s having a hard time protecting them from social media thieves. Criminals are using Denny and other active and retired members of the military as bait to catfish people on Facebook.
Denny showed us bogus Facebook pages that use his photos, but have fake names and backstories.
Frank Denny, Scotty Bryan Lugard, Denny Nelson and Andrew Clarke don’t really exist, except in internet cafes halfway around the world. Denny says the activity is especially concentrated in Lagos, Nigeria, but also mentions Ghana, India and Turkey.
A Facebook spokesperson provided this statement:
“We require people to use their real identities on Facebook and pretending to be someone else is an explicit violation of our policies. Imposter accounts affect real people, and we remove these accounts when we discover them. We’ve invested heavily in strengthening our technology to keep them off Facebook and we work with law enforcement to prosecute scammers. That job is not finished and we are committed to sharing our progress.”
Denny partnered with Kathy Waters of California to establish Advocating Against Romance Scammers, to alert and protect people from falling victim. A family friend of Waters’ was duped into losing money as part of a romance scam.
“I think that they’re opportunistic, I think this is organized crime, I think they’re thieves,” Denny said in a Friday morning interview.
He says the scammers tug on the hearts of people looking for love, at an “emotionally vulnerable time in their life.”
The backstories are bogus but believable because they revolve around military members, whom people generally regard as respected and trustworthy.
The con takes several shapes. It might be a tale about a soldier who’s in harm’s way and needs money for a humanitarian project for needy people overseas.
In one case, scammers used Denny’s real pictures of him and his son with horses and then built a bogus story around that image. “My son’s been injured in a horse-riding accident, he needs money for medicine, could you please send money?” Denny said.
Denny says $50,000-$60,000 is not unheard of from someone looking for love, or looking to help someone supposedly in need.
“They send cash, iTunes cards, gift cards of all types, cash to fly home to see them on R&R leave, cash to put a down payment on a house.”
Denny feels especially bad about some women in Australia.
“They’re probably my biggest three contributors, who have almost $200,000 invested in guys that they thought were me and serving in the U.S. Army in a combat zone.”
It flies in the face of why Denny joined the Army.
“I spent 26 years in uniform looking to protect people. I detest bullies and want to stand up for people who couldn’t defend themselves, and now my images are being used to do the exact opposite.”
He has met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and with officials from Facebook.
“We’ve met with Facebook several times and they have done a couple of things, but quite frankly the change has been very slow.”
Facebook provided additional information about its efforts to combat them, and specifically mentioned its gratitude for Denny and Waters for reporting bogus accounts.
Three years after he first realized identity thieves were using his likeness, Denny says he still gets several contacts every day.
“I’m the bearer of bad news a couple of times a week. Somebody who will be really invested in this, financially and emotionally, and you’ve got to tell them they’ve been scammed, they’ve been taken.”