Military impostors or military fakers either lie about having served in the military, or make up stories, ranks, awards, or other details about their real military experience.
You can try several ways on how to spot a military impostor, including making them show their DD Form 214, requesting verification with the National Personnel Records Center, or exposing their inconsistencies by asking the right questions.
Table of Contents
- Ways to Identify Stolen Valor
- The Penalty of Military Impostor
- Where Can I Meet These Scammers
- What to Do if You’ve Determined Someone Faking Military Service
- Military Impostor Examples: Stolen Valor Wall of Shame
Ways to Identify Stolen Valor
What does stolen valor mean?
In the military, “stolen valor” is a general term used to describe awards or medals a military impostor did not earn, service he/she did not perform, or military experiences they never faced.
Some people embellish their military background. For example, “Blacklist” actor Brian Dennehy has been caught falsely claiming to have served in Vietnam several times during his career. Dennehy was outed in the book “Stolen Valor” and was forced to apologize and admit to his embellishments.
Prior to the internet, stealing valor was easier because it was only in 1988 that the country’s Medal of Honor Registry was publicly published online.
Today, there are several ways to expose a person’s lies about military service. These include:
1. DD Form 214: Quickest Proof of Past Military Background
If you want to find out if someone is lying about military service and they’re willing to show proof, ask to see their DD Form 214.
DD214 form, also known as “report of separation form,” Discharge from Active Duty, or Certificate of Release is a document given to any military service member who retires, gets discharged, or faces separation.
DD214 includes information about a service member’s last duty assignment, rank, military education, military job specialty, medals, awards, and separation information.
The Department of Defense usually issues this document, but service members can also request an electronic copy for free at the eBenefits website.
2. Request Military Service Records via National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)
Requests of service records are available online via eVetRecs. You can also send a signed and dated request to the National Archives’ National Personnel Record Center (NPRC) via fax (NPRC Fax Number: 314-801-9195) or by mail.
NPRC Mailing Address:
National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138
Military personnel records are open to the public 62 years after they leave the military.
3. Use these Questions to ask a Fake Soldier or Military Impostor
Fake veterans mistakes can be noticed when you know the right questions to ask. For example:
- What was your basic training unit?
- How often should you shake a drill sergeant’s hand?
- Did everyone in your training unit got deployed? (approximately 30% of the army get deployed)
- Ask for their email address or MOS code.
- What color is your dog tag? (there are silver, black, or other colors depending on the branch of the military)
The key to exposing a phony soldier or military member is to have a follow-up question ready to the Stolen Valor questions above.
The Penalty of Military Impostor
Different countries have their own laws about pretending to be in the military.
Most countries consider it a crime for civilians to fake their military background in order to con money or obtain information, or benefits.
In the United States, the penalty for lying about military service was addressed in the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. However, this law was found to have violated Free Speech and deemed unconstitutional.
Eventually, the law was revised as Stolen Valor Act of 2013. The new law added details of tangible benefits and personal gains resulting from the fraud. Impersonating military personnel isn’t a felony, but a federal misdemeanor (punishable by imprisonment of 1 year or less).
Where Can I Meet These Scammers
Meeting a fake military person or the so-called “military fakers” can happen both online and offline.
Some fraudsters pretend to be active service members or veterans in order to scam other people into sending them gifts or money.
This kind of romance scam is actually prevalent and could involve the identity theft of a real veteran or service member.
What to Do if You’ve Determined Someone Faking Military Service
Exposing fake soldiers is not easy, especially if the individual has been faking his military background for a long time. However, if you were able to spot stolen valor via his uniform, medals, and other equipment, you can call them out.
However, if this fake soldier has been impersonating servicemen to obtain loans, receive military benefits, or scam other people, then you need to report them to authorities.
Contact the OIG (Office of Inspector General) of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) employ investigators who are trained to check for stolen valor.
Military Impostor Examples: Stolen Valor Wall of Shame
Politicians and celebrities are usually criticized harshly whenever they are found out and included in the infamous Stolen Valor list.
The following military imposters were exposed involuntarily include:
- Lafayette Ron Hubbard (pictured above) – Known by many as L. Ron Hubbard, this Scientology founder and science fiction book author has always been described by his church as a war hero with severe injuries in combat.
However, Hubbard’s official Navy records have no detail about any severe wounds or a Purple Heart award.
- Walter Williams – This man became famous for being the last surviving American Civil War veteran when he died in 1959.
However, it was discovered later that Williams wasn’t born on the birthdate he claimed and couldn’t have served during the war.
- Joseph McCarthy – This US Senator tried his best to qualify for a Distinguished Flying Cross and several Air Medal awards by claiming he participated in 32 aerial missions.
McCarthy even published a commendation letter supposedly from his commanding officers, who later disputed this and said McCarthy wrote the letter himself.
- William Northrop – American military historian, author and investigator announced to everyone that he served as a US Army Special Forces officer for 3 years in the Vietnam War.
Northrop was one of the many names revealed as military impostors in the 1998 book “Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History.”
- Maurice Larry Lawrence – This real estate professional almost got away with his claim of being a Seaman, 1st Class of Merchant Marine throughout WWII and an Arctic Convoys veteran.
Lawrence was even honored with Bill Clinton’s eulogy and buried at the Arlington Cemetery upon his death. When his fake military background was proven fake a year after his death, his remains were disinterred and transferred to California.
This wall of shame military imposters is nowhere near complete.
There had been ordinary citizens who shot to fame for their severe fraud cases. A good example of this is Derek Mylan Alldred, a Minnesota-based fake war hero who defrauded women of a whopping $255,000 and was sentenced to 24 years in prison by a federal court in 2018.
Some websites, such as the MilitaryPhony.com, are dedicated to “protecting the valor of those who have defended our freedom” and exposing those who are just pretending.
What is imposter syndrome in the military?
Impostor syndrome is a feeling wherein a person thinks that he/she is a “fraud” within their own career, feeling like they don’t belong or being anxious about being “called out.”
Impostor syndrome isn’t the same as a fake military person making up stories or exaggerating their military experience.
What to do if I’m the victim of a military impostor?
If you learned how to prove stolen valor and want to report the impostor, you have several options.
- To report a military romance scam, contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- To report any possible case of military record fraud, fill out the NARA OIG Hotline form. You can also call OIG Hotline via 301-837-3500 or mail your report to: OIG Hotline, NARA, P.O. Box 1821 Hyattsville, MD 20788-0821
How do I know if I’m being scammed?
You’ll know you’re being a target of a romance scam if they keep avoiding video chats, manipulating you emotionally, and hiding on social media. A fake military person would regularly ask you for money using all sorts of reasons like food, housing, retirement, and other emergencies.
If someone is bragging about his military service, you can observe his uniform and look for inconsistencies in the placement of medals, or patches. This isn’t a guarantee that he’s a scheming, fake military guy, but wearing a fake uniform is a pretty good clue.
Military impostors can be someone impersonating a soldier with a fake army uniform or fake military name just for attention or prestige.
It is legal for civilians to wear military uniforms, which is why people can pull off military-themed Halloween costumes. However, this becomes illegal once the civilian wearing the uniform impersonates a member of the military.
Others master military impersonation to obtain benefits like loans, housing, employment, medical care, etc, which are definitely a crime under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013.
If you know how to spot a military impostor, you could avoid getting scammed or even land a job as an investigator.
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