Nigerian romance scams take another couple victims.
02/08 - Cpl. Paul Hallenbeck was deployed to Afghanistan when he met a woman online.
The guardsman was lonely. He had been mobilized individually, away from his unit, and tasked to deploy with the 41st Brigade Combat Team from Oregon. His job had him training the Afghan army, and he was often outside the wire on dangerous missions.
The online conversations with this woman, who said she was from Nigeria, were comforting, a distraction from combat.
But after three or four months, Hallenbeck, 47, said he realized she was lying to him.
?I was helping her out with her tuition and I got scammed,? he said. ?I was on a [forward operating base] most of the time, so any contact with humans helped, so I kind of got milked out of that.?
Hallenbeck, who was deployed from June 2006 to June 2007 in Uruzgan province in south-central Afghanistan, declined to disclose how much money he had lost ? but said it was far less than the woman who fell for a photo of him.
In an ironic twist of events ? and as evidence that online scam artists are thriving ? Hallenbeck?s name and photo were used to scam a 59-year-old British woman out of thousands of dollars.
Hallenbeck, a former Marine who later joined the Army National Guard, said he found out about the scam involving the British woman only when he was contacted by an Army public affairs officer, who was informed by Army Times.
He is not the only service member whose name and photo were used to fool women into sending money to con artists.
Marine Col. Richard Bartch had his photos lifted from a family morale Web site by a con artist who then asked women to send money to help pay for the shipment of his luggage as he made his way home from Iraq.
The real Bartch, who lives in Spokane, Wash., knows his name and likeness have been used in the scam, but the nature of the identity theft has limited his options.
?No one can do anything about it. Just because the guy?s using my name, there?s not any real recourse,? Bartch said. ?It is a violation, but it?s not like being broken into.?
The photo of Hallenbeck that was used to fool the British woman came from an article in ?The Main Effort,? the monthly newsletter of the 205th Regional Security Assistance Command.
Hallenbeck confirmed that he is the soldier in the photo.
?I?m very concerned about the woman in England that was scammed,? he said.
Asked about the scam that got him, Hallenbeck said he was contacted by the Nigerian woman after he visited a Web site that allows visitors to view photos of potential partners.
?I was out in the FOB for quite a long time on quite a few missions, and a lot of missions I thought I wasn?t coming back,? he said. ?When you?re out there, you?re lonely and you don?t think you?re coming back.?
During the course of his conversations with the woman, Hallenbeck said he sent her the article and photo that appeared in ?The Main Effort.? He said he also received e-mails from writers claiming to be the woman?s pastor and mother.
?That just made it more realistic that everything she was saying was true,? he said. ?It?s embarrassing. I?ve never been scammed my whole life.?
The woman said her mother lived alone and was scrounging for money because her father died and she needed money for medical school, Hallenbeck said.
The woman would correspond with him regularly, he said.
The British woman who fell in love with who she thought was Hallenbeck said she, too, is embarrassed.
The con artist told her Hallenbeck was 49. The woman, divorced for 15 years, fell in love with the love letters, poems, flowers, e-mails and phone calls she received.
?It?s everything a girl dreams of, isn?t it?? she said.