Despite being happily married for 13 years, Ray Chandler is one of the world’s most eligible bachelors.
Single women can find him on the dating site DateMeMateMe.com, where he confesses to being, “Very new to this dating thing and am looking to see where this takes me.” At FishMeetFish.com, under the username RealChandler, he explains, “I would love my first date to be something special.”
At GirlsDateforFree.com, Chandler describes himself as being 6-2 and weighing 158 pounds. At AdultSingles.com he is 5-11 and weighs a worrisome 85 pounds.
He is on Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook, where as recently as last week a Kentucky woman named Lois had posted a note: “Hi baby just calling to see what you was doing.”
Literally hundreds of dating profiles and social media accounts are illustrated with photographs of the same handsome, salt-and-pepper-haired military man.
It was just such a picture that a reader of mine I’m calling Dede responded to when she saw it on Match.com in August. As I outlined in two previous columns, Dede communicated via e-mail and text message for five months with a person who went by the name Mark Handle before he asked her for $3,000 to ship a box of diamonds from London. Only then did she realize she was being scammed.
By doing a reverse image search, I found the real person in the photo: Raymond Chandler III, who recently stepped down as sergeant major of the Army. When I sent Dede a link to Chandler’s official Defense Department bio, she messaged back: “OMG! That is him! Does this guy know that someone is using his ID?”
Does he ever. And he’s none too happy about it. Neither is his wife.
“The fact that people decided to use my image for their own personal gain, it felt like I was violated,” Chandler told me last week.
He’s a high-profile example of the military romance scheme, where West Africa-based scammers scour Pentagon Web sites, Facebook pages and other social media accounts to harvest photographs of troops. Using the images — and, often, real biographical information — they create fictitious profiles and prey on women.
“I’ve talked to people who’ve given up to $70,000 and never met the person,” said Chris Grey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID).
Although these cases do not involve CID — military personnel are not the scammers or the victims — Grey has taken it upon himself to spread the word. “I’m a retired Marine,” he said. “I don’t want people to think a fellow service person is scamming them out of money.”
The scammers typically work in teams and have different ways to extract their filthy lucre. Some, like Dede’s, ask for money to ship something. Others tell their victims they desperately want to meet in person but must pay to go on leave. Grey has posted online dozens of examples of fake documents used by scammers, including a “Fiance Request Form” with a “registration fee” of $350.
Photos of senior Army leaders have proved so popular that the Army’s public affairs office monitors misuse.
“They pop up in the 20s per day, usually with Facebook,” Master Sgt. Michelle Johnson said.
Some victims have a tough time accepting that they’ve been scammed.
Said Grey: “It’s really sad, because once you tell them this person has no idea their picture’s been taken, they still want to talk to that person. They’re emotionally attached to the thought of being in love.”
Some are convinced they’ve been scammed by the person in the photograph. Chandler said a woman in Poland went so far as to find the address of one of his adult sons and send an irate letter.
“We got the Army G-2 intelligence folks to get in contact with the Polish Embassy,” Chandler said. “They had to go physically to her and tell her to stop.”
Chandler said he was concerned because at the time he was on the hit list of an al-Qaeda splinter group. If a brokenhearted Polish woman could find his son, well, that was worrying.
Said Chandler’s wife, Jeanne: “We heard about one lady, the guy was impersonating Gen. [David H.] Petraeus. She sold her house because she was going to go live in the general’s house and sent the scammer the money.”
While her husband served as sergeant major of the Army, Jeanne became adept at finding fake accounts. She would punch in a few search terms, see what popped up and then try to get the bogus pages taken down.
“It was satisfying in that I knew there would be a result, so that scammer’s not victimizing anybody,” she said. “It was like being a private eye.”
But like a pernicious weed, every time an account is closed, more spring up in its place.
I sent Jeanne the photographs that Dede’s scammer had sent her. Some were taken from Army Web sites, others from an official Facebook page. One had Chandler’s head crudely Photoshopped on a different body. “My husband would never wear jeans with loafers and no socks,” Jeanne said.
The real Sgt. Maj. Chandler and the real Mrs. Chandler have a blended family, with six children and 12 grandchildren between them.
How did the couple meet? “I met him at the luggage carousel at the Shreveport airport,” Jeanne said.
That method might not work for everybody. If you’re involved with online dating, remember: Be suspicious, be vigilant, be careful. And never — never — send anyone money.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.