Another Victim in Facebook Romance Scams: A U.S. Congressman

In 2015, Representative Adam Kinzinger had an uncommon customer at his constituent workplace inside a bus station in Rockford, Ill. A lady from India had flown to satisfy Mr. Kinzinger, claiming that she had developed a relationship with him on Facebook.

“She waited around in that bus station for two weeks for me to show up, and I didn’t,” he mentioned in an interview. “She’s a poor lady, too. It took all her money to fly from India to me.”

The episode was simply one of many weird interactions that Mr. Kinzinger mentioned he had had over the previous decade with ladies world wide who believed they have been relationship him.

That is as a result of Mr. Kinzinger, a Republican and a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, is certainly one of what are in all probability hundreds of United States service members who’ve been ensnared in a widespread fraud that has performed out for years on Facebook, Instagram and different social networks and relationship websites. Swindlers impersonate service members on-line to lure victims into false romances after which cheat the victims out of their financial savings.

“There needs to be accountability for this issue that can, quite frankly, destroy lives,” Mr. Kinzinger wrote in the letter. “Facebook has an immensely significant role to play in getting this situation under control.”

In an interview, Mr. Kinzinger said he was also in the early stages of preparing legislation that would force social-media companies to do more to fight the problem.

“There has to be a place for government to step in and have penalties,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but it has to be something.”

Mr. Kinzinger said he needed more time to study the issue before publicly discussing specific legislation. He mentioned several things Facebook could potentially do to stop scammers, including using facial recognition software to automatically spot impostors and requiring identification to create an account.

A Facebook spokeswoman said that the company was reviewing Mr. Kinzinger’s letter and that it looked forward to answering his questions. Facebook has previously said that it used software and human reviewers to remove impostor accounts when it found them, and that it worked with law enforcement authorities to prosecute scammers. The company said it was investing in new technology to better combat fraud.

Facebook estimates it has 120 million fake accounts. Instagram, which Facebook owns, does not disclose a figure for such accounts.

A bill from Mr. Kinzinger would be the latest effort in Washington to increase regulation of the largest technology companies. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are investigating antitrust complaints against them, and the House Judiciary Committee is examining accusations that they engage in anticompetitive behavior. There is also new legislation that targets Silicon Valley, including a bill proposed this week by Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, to curb social-media addiction.

On Thursday, Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, said The Times’s article about military romance scams showed that Facebook had a lot of work to do to address the various problems on its sites.

“We continue to see that despite a lot of public pledges to address core problems with its platform, Facebook still remains incredibly vulnerable to exploitation by bad actors,” Mr. Warner said in a statement. Before it pursues new projects like its proposed cryptocurrency, Libra, he added, “Facebook should first focus on fixing the serious problems that remain with its platform, as these abuses illustrate.”

Mr. Kinzinger, who was stationed in Iraq twice as an Air Force pilot, said that he had begun dealing with online impostors around 2008, and that they had been a persistent headache since.

“It’s literally been an 11-year battle with this, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “It’s devastating.”

Mr. Kinzinger said dozens of women had contacted him or members of his staff to say they were in a relationship with him. A second woman from India reported sending one of the impostors roughly $10,000, he said. A woman from Arizona sent his staff members screenshots of her explicit online chats with a person posing as Mr. Kinzinger, worrying him that he was the victim of a political attack.

“These women talk to you like they’ve known you for a year, and I have no idea who they even are,” he said. “We turn these into Facebook, Instagram and Capitol Police, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

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