Cybercriminals target military members: How to avoid becoming a victim

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mary Andom
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A senior-ranking military member sends you a Facebook request. It looks legitimate. He has an official photo along with other military acquaintances in his network. You accept the request, but little do you know it is a fake profile created by the adversary to collect private, sensitive information.

While social media can be an effective tool to connect, it can also be an opportunity for cybercriminals to prey.


According to the Department of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting military members with impersonation scams.

Cybercriminals create imposter profiles using official and personal photos, along with real names and identities. Military specific emails and social media handles are also added to enhance legitimacy.

Posing as service members, cybercriminals then gain trust and build relationships, often romantic in nature.

In 2019, 25,000 Americans reported being victims of romance scams, resulting in over $200 million in losses—up nearly 40% since 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“Airmen have to put themselves in the shoes of the adversary,” said Master Sgt. Gabriela Lee, the 446th Airlift Wing Operations Security signature manager. “Minimize your social media imprint and be cautious of who you share your personal information with.”  

With the popularity of TikTok, social engineering surveys and dating apps, what may seem harmless and fun, could in fact put you at risk.

“Listen to your gut if you experience suspicious behavior,” she said. “Only accept friend requests from individuals you know and verify with the actual person if the request was sent on their behalf.” 

Here are some tips from Department of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to protect your identity:

  1. Regularly perform searches across various social media platforms for imposter accounts.
  2. Conduct a reverse image search using official and personal photos.
  3. Air Force personnel considered to be public figures, such as general officers, senior executives, or commanders, should verify their social media profiles to add legitimacy and authenticity. Verified accounts most often have a blue or grey check mark on the user’s profile. The verified icon and the process for obtaining a verified account vary depending upon the specific social media platform.
  4. Report or flag imposter accounts. Each website has a different review process, but reporting false accounts to allow for such a review is the most important step in removing fraudulent profiles.

If you are a victim of an online scam, please immediately notify your leadership and contact the 446th Airlift Wing OPSEC manager at (253) 982-9964.