PHOENIX - A Phoenix woman who became smitten with an online friend, discovered the man with whom she was communicating had been scamming her by posing as a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan.
THE LOVE STORY
For Regina Stewart, the idea of joining Match.com seemed like a cure for her loneliness, but it also made her feel a little awkward and vulnerable. The recently divorced Goodyear woman had been married for 25 years before she decided to join the dating website in search of a good friend.
“At the time, I was in a lot of pain from the divorce,” she said. “I wanted somebody to talk to.”
“I thought having a pen pal or meeting someone locally who just wanted friendship would be great,” she added. “So that’s why I went on (Match.com).”
It didn’t take long before a handsome soldier - who said he was stationed in Afghanistan - contacted her, looking for the same thing.
“My initial reaction was that he was too young for me,” Stewart said, describing the young man who was featured in the photographs. His age on the website was listed as 39.
Stewart is 61 years old.
When she confronted him about his age, the pen pal told her he had made a mistake in his online profile, and he was actually in his late forties.
Stewart thought he would be OK as a pen pal. She said she trusted him because he was in the military.
“I just continued to email him back and forth because he was trustworthy, and his emails were very respectful – so you just kind of get caught up in it,” she said.
The soldier told Stewart his name was Sgt. Fred Milton and that he had grown up in Australia. He seemed very personal, Stewart said. He would ask thoughtful questions about her father, who was in the hospital.
He seemed to care, and he wrote her heartfelt messages.
“I have a very good heart filled with love, and I want to share it with the right person,” he wrote in a letter to Stewart. “It’s been awhile since I’ve loved someone, and I want to do that now. I have been heartbroken once, and it almost ruined my life, my career, and my friendship with my daughter, and I wouldn’t want that to happen again,” he continued.
“I think I did fall in love with him, but it wasn’t the kind of love that you have when you’re with somebody – physically,” Stewart said. “They’re in Afghanistan. They’re writing you. They’re telling you that they’re in danger, and you just get caught up in it.”
“It feels like love. That’s probably the best way I can describe it. It kind of feels like love,” she said.
Eventually, the soldier suggested Stewart help him request a leave from the military, so he could visit her in the United States.
They decided Milton could stay in Stewart’s guest room.
Soon, Stewart received what appeared to be military paperwork in her email inbox. If she filled out the forms and submitted them, it seemed, Milton might be allowed to take a special leave of absence.
However, Stewart noticed something fishy with the forms. She was being asked to submit the request to a dot-com web address instead of a government website like a dot-mil or a dot-gov.
“Eventually, it was just too good to be true, so that’s when I started doing more in-depth research,” she said. “I went on the Internet, and I started searching.”
Stewart discovered this relationship wasn’t real.
It was a scam.
Civilians cannot request a leave of absence on behalf of a soldier.
The so-called military personnel with whom she was communicating eventually solicited her for $850 to process Milton’s paperwork, but Stewart didn’t fall for it.
THE REAL SGT. MILTON
The man in the photographs appeared to be a real soldier. He was wearing Army fatigues, and his last name was printed on the front of his uniform.
The ABC15 Investigators confirmed there actually is a Sgt. Milton serving in Afghanistan whose picture matches the one Stewart had been admiring.
But his name is not Sgt. Fred Milton, and he says he has never communicated with Stewart on Match.com.
The real Sgt. Milton in the photographs is actually named Todd Milton. He says a scammer likely accessed and used his unprotected Facebook photos in order to trick women on dating sites.
“I’ve been telling soldiers in my platoon about this,” he said. “Be careful of what you post on the Internet, on Facebook – obviously, just watch out for yourself.”
Milton said he is flattered that Stewart was fond of his photos, and says he is thankful she discovered the scam. “I’m glad (Stewart) caught him in time and didn’t send him any money,” he told the ABC15 Investigators.
“It definitely makes me angry,” Milton said in a Skype interview with the ABC15 Investigators, from his base in Afghanistan. “It’s way distracting at the point in my life where I don’t need to be distracted right now,” he said.
“I’m real angry about it. I don’t see how anybody can get away with anything like that or even want to do something like that,” Milton said.
THE MILITARY REACTS
Military officials say scams like this are frequent, but it is difficult to find the