By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Pictures stolen from the social media pages of Minnesota service members are being used to scam money out of unsuspecting people looking for love.

One service member had his identity stolen more than 20 times in what authorities call a “romance scam.”

Command Sergeant Major Doug Wortham spends a little part of his day, every day, searching his social media profile.

“People are using my picture a lot of time with my name, sometimes with a fake name or different name, at least 20 times that I’ve reported,” he said.

Wortham is one of many service members who had their pictures and identity taken from social media and used to con an unsuspecting person into sending money.

“They’re telling them that the solider needs money for transportation or medical cost overseas, and those are all things covered by the military, but people don’t know that,” Master Sergeant Blair Heusdens said.

Heusdens says the romance scammers establish a relationship over time before hitting their victims up for money.

“I remind my service members — my soldiers and airmen — that they ought to be very cautious with their own profiles in particular,” Wortham said.

Wortham says Facebook has a process to deal with fake profiles — once proven fake, they’re deleted. Victims so far have been from Finland, Germany and the U.S.

This is not new — service members have been targets of romance scammers for years, but the activity has seen a recent surge.

“In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen an increase,” Wortham said. “I report something to Facebook, and it comes down and within an hour a new profile has already been built.”

The criminals behind the romance scams are from Africa, making it harder to locate and prosecute them.

If you have a question about a service member who has reached out to you for cash or assistance contact the Minnesota National Guard’s public Affairs Office.

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