Lakenheath airmen’s IDs used in scam
Stars and Stripes
RAF LAKENHEATH, England – Canadian Danielle Boileau really wanted to buy an inexpensive 2004 Volvo V70 online to easily transport her Newfoundland dogs around British Columbia.
David Mackey, of Bend, Ore., was enticed by a bargain-priced 2004 Toyota Sienna.
Both discovered the cars on a Craigslist Web site for Oregon-based classifieds last month.
But what Boileau and Mackey eventually realized was that their dream cars were in fact just that — a delusion showcased as part of an online scam believed to originate in London.
Besides low prices, the scam lures buyers by saying that an RAF Lakenheath airman is the seller.
At least 12 people have contacted RAF Lakenheath since November to verify the names of airmen selling discounted cars online.
Most of them are for people who don’t exist, while a few are actual airmen unaware of their borrowed identities, according to spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young.
Too good to be true
In late March, Boileau saw the Volvo, which appeared to be in excellent condition, online for only $9,000.
She thinks the car is worth $20,000. She then contacted the seller at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Attempting to close the deal, jkosman81 replied, identifying himself as Lt. Col. John Kosman and saying he was stationed at Lakenheath.
“I am [a] squadron commander and I conduct search and rescue operations,” jkosman81 said in one e-mail.
Boileau got suspicious after the “seller” told her that he could ship the car via airplane from England to Canada for free, she said.
“I can have it shipped from here by an US Air Force cargo plane so there won’t be any additional costs,” the scammer wrote in another e-mail. “Also I can arrange for a truck to transport the car to your home address or, if you like, you can pick it up from the nearest airport in your area.”
The real Lt. Col. John Kosman — once stationed at Lakenheath but now at Aviano Air Base, Italy — is currently deployed to Iraq and could not be reached for comment.
However, Aviano public affairs said Kosman has been aware of the issue for awhile.
Boileau found out about the ruse when she called Lakenheath’s public affairs to confirm what the scammer told her.
“I feel bad for [Kosman] because, hopefully, this person doesn’t ruin [his] name,” she said. “It probably happens a lot with [the] military because they get moved around a lot and people can’t keep track of them.”
Searching for the true Staff Sgt. O’Connor
At about the same time, Mackey tried to buy a Toyota Sienna for $7,500 from a seller who identified himself as Staff Sgt. Greg O’Connor, also from Lakenheath.
Mackey’s e-mail correspondence with email@example.com was similar to Boileau’s — a cheap left-hand-drive car in England with free overseas shipping and the payment only to be done through an eBay account.
The genuine e-Bay company later branded it a “phishing e-mail” scam, Mackey said.
The phishing e-mails sent to them read: “So how this actually works? Simple: The buyer sends the payment to eBay and they hold the money until the car is delivered; I ship the car to US; I get my money only after the buyer receives the car and makes sure everything is agreed.
“I believe this protects both buyer and seller and it’s the right way to do this.”
The scammer also sent Mackey a photo of the real Staff Sgt. Greg O’Connor, who works at Lakenheath’s optometry clinic, to build his trust.
Still not convinced, Mackey tracked down O’Connor himself to see if the deal was valid.
When Mackey first contacted O’Connor, the airman thought it was a joke.
“I was really skeptical,” O’Connor said. “I thought it was someone playing a prank on me.”
O’Connor then checked his credit report and banking accounts to see if anything was out of the ordinary. Although nothing was touched, he was still upset that a thief used his good name in a scam.
“It’s creepy,” O’Connor said. “He was using my photo to scam people.”
As for the scammer calling himself a U.S. airman, Mackey thought it helped sell his phony story.
“It’s easier to make the story sound legit,” he said. “[But] if something sounds too good to be true, like they always say, it probably is.”
Misrepresentation not considered a crime
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — An online scam involving misrepresented RAF Lakenheath airmen has recently been traced to a London bank account. But even armed with the alleged scammer’s own bank account details, airmen have little recourse to fight back legally.
While attempting to rip off Oregon native David Mackey out of $7,500 for a phony Toyota Sienna online last month, a scam artist who called himself Staff Sgt. Greg O’Connor appeared to have released his personal and banking account information.
At least 12 people have contacted Lakenheath since November to verify the names of airmen misrepresented in this online scam. Most of the names don’t exist, while a few are of actual airmen unaware their identities have been used, according to spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young.
The real Staff Sgt. Greg O’Connor is clearly upset with his name being exploited in a scam but also at the lack of help from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
“They said if no information of yours was stolen or no money exchanged hands, then there’s nothing we can do,” O’Connor said. “I was a little frustrated about that.”
“They didn’t even look at my paperwork,” O’Connor continued, “I got the guy’s information right here,” he said while holding up a sheet of paper he got from Mackey with the alleged scammer’s details.
To complete his deceitful transaction, the scammer asked Mackey to transfer his money using a fake eBay invoice to a different person’s bank account at NatWest Bank in London’s Greenwich area.
NatWest confirmed to Stars and Stripes that the bank account was active and its fraud department has launched an investigation into it.
“We’re taking appropriate measures at the moment,” said bank manager Bjorn Dawson. “If fraudulent activity is discovered, the account would then be closed.”
Dawson also urged anyone financially affected by this scam to contact their bank as soon as possible. Citing identity protection rules, he wouldn’t verify the name on the account with the one that Stripes had obtained.
Stripes notified London’s Metropolitan Police of these details and the misrepresentation of U.S. airmen.
A Met police spokeswoman said last week that the Greenwich Police Station would determine if there is a case. However, she added that they couldn’t do anything with the misrepresented airmen as it’s not considered a crime.
As a result, Air Force OSI agents have not opened up an investigation on it.
“At this time there is no case,” said OSI spokeswoman Linda Card. “It has never been filed as a criminal case. They might be watching it but right now we have no case on file for this.”
Young echoed a similar stance for Lakenheath’s security forces but stressed that airmen should report identity theft.
She also said that airmen affected by online scams can ask the Web sites involved to issue out fraud alerts.
“They’ll be the ones who can prevent this from being done again,” she said.
— Sean Kimmons
Tips on how buyers protect themselves
The Craigslist network has 450 local classifieds sites in the U.S. and in more than 50 countries.
Here are some tips on how not to fall victim to an online scam on these sites:
Deal locally with folks you can meet in person.
Never wire funds via Western Union, MoneyGram or any other wire service — anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
Fake cashier’s checks and money orders are common, and banks will cash them and then hold you responsible when the fake is discovered weeks later.
Craigslist is not involved in any transaction and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services or offer “buyer protection” or “seller certification.”
Never give out financial information (bank account number, Social Security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services and know that only a scammer will “guarantee” your transaction.