The case of Michael McDowell, the fake military man in Fort Worth, Texas charged with bigamy and impersonating a public servant after wearing bogus uniforms and a Purple Heart, brought up a good question from a potential client: How does a person verify military records? Fifty-seven year-old McDowell claimed for years that he was a General who had earned a Purple Heart for bravery – but he lied to his second wife and married her before divorcing his first one. McDowell was sentenced to 10 years probation, which many consider a slap on the wrist considering his decade of deception.
Verifying a soldier’s story can be especially important considering that a huge number of catfishing cases and other love scams use photos of hunky military men as bait. A career in the armed services can provide a perfect cover story for a scammer: The man can claim to be unavailable to meet because he is stationed overseas, or stuck in a hospital awaiting a life-saving liver transplant that only your $25,000 wired via a courier in Nigeria can provide.
Defense Manpower Data Center’s (DMDC) has a military verification service that can tell members of the public if a person is currently serving in the military. The site is available 24 hours a day. When you perform a check, based on the Social Security Number and other personal information furnished, the system will indicate that the Department either does not possess information regarding the individual or that the individual is in the military.
But what if someone is already retired? The public has access to certain military service information via the Freedom of Information Act without the veteran’s authorization or that of the next-of-kin (the un-remarried widow or widower, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister) of deceased veterans.
According to the National Archives website, examples of information which may be available from Federal (non-archival) Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) without an unwarranted invasion of privacy include:
- Service Number
- Dates of Service
- Branch of Service
- Final Duty Status
- Final Rank
- Military Education Level
- Awards and decorations (eligibility only, not actual medals)
Former military personnel records can be requested by mail using a Standard Form 180. All requests must be in writing, signed and mailed to the following address:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138
Websites like The Fake Warriors Project also publish a list of scams and work to expose military fraudsters.