The Case of the Fake General: How to Verify Military Personnel

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:

  • Name
  • Service Number
  • Dates of Service
  • Branch of Service
  • Final Duty Status
  • Final Rank
  • Military Education Level
  • Awards and decorations (eligibility only, not actual medals)
  • Photograph

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.


Catfish-proofing your profile

Another day; another excuse to break out the popcorn and watch yet another Dr Phil show about a mother who tried online dating and is clearly being scammed by a catfish. I’ve written before that these cases only represent the tip of the iceberg – and while, as family members, our instinct may be to grab the person, shake them and scream ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, I’m going to focus on how we can help them – and ourselves – catfish-proof online dating profiles. I think that online dating can be great. . . as long as you use caution and limit the pool of eligible singles to people who actually exist.  Read more

Catfishing 101

Criminal Minds star Thomas Gibson has reportedly become the latest victim of a ‘celebrity catfish’, according to TMZ, but I’m betting that he won’t be the last. Men may be even more likely to get sucked in to interacting with a fake person. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, love scams cost victims $50 million in 2011. It’s impossible to calculate how many hours of their lives were lost to dreaming, emailing, and talking to someone who doesn’t exist. Many victims don’t come forward because they are afraid that they will look stupid. They are right. Because love makes us all stupid. Think about it: Falling in love is chemically similar in the brain to doing a line of cocaine. Would you make any other major life decision while high? [. . .]





Catfishing 101

Boy meets girl online. Boy can’t get together for dates, ever, but he has a plausible excuse. He’s stranded in Nigeria where his oil rig exploded. He’s waiting for his inheritance. He has a hook for a hand. Girl wires huge amounts of money before realizing she’s been screwed. As a relationship writer and private investigator in training, I sadly see this scenario play out every day.  Deadspin reported that Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti T’eo may have been the victim of an Internet ‘catfish’. After it emerged that the ‘girlfriend’ who supposedly had cancer and died never really existed at all, he released a statement claiming he was the “victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies.” But he’s just the tip of the iceberg. Read more

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