SEOUL — A South Korean man has been charged with fraud for allegedly impersonating a U.S. military officer and promising to introduce merchants outside two major USFK bases to a new source of clients — American troops.

An officer in the criminal investigations unit for the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency said the man, identified only by his last name of Lee, visited a number of stores, bars, hotels and car dealerships near Osan Air Base and U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in August and September and tried to pass himself off as a U.S. Army major.

Two storeowners in Pyeongtaek, including an import-car salesman, paid Lee 19 million won — about $17,300 — for his promise to send U.S. Forces Korea servicemembers to their businesses, the police officer said. Lee, who is in his late 30s, also did not repay money he borrowed from other businessmen so he could buy real estate.

The police officer said Lee spoke fluent English and sometimes wore a U.S. Army uniform he stole from a hotel in Dongducheon where he once worked. U.S. troops often stayed there during exercises.

“It seems that he pilfered the soldiers’ uniform, patches and other goods when they left the hotel,” the officer said.

Police suspect other merchants gave Lee money but have not come forward because they are embarrassed to admit they were scammed and are afraid of being shunned. The officer said businessowners in the village outside Humphreys have been struggling financially because of the delay in the U.S. military relocation to the once-small base, which is under construction and will eventually become a major USFK hub.

Lee has been previously convicted for fraud, and before his arrest this month was wanted for six other crimes, including two cases of fraud in Seoul, one in Jeju Island, and one in Dongducheon, home to the 2nd Infantry Division’s Camp Casey. He is being held at a Pyeongtaek jail.

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Yoo Kyong Chang is a reporter/translator covering the U.S. military from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. She graduated from Korea University and also studied at the University of Akron in Ohio.

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