With his good looks and military pedigree, retired US Colonel Bryan Denny is considered a catch.
Each week he’s contacted by new women from around the world who have fallen in love with him and, in some cases, emptied their bank accounts for him.
“They are trying to confirm or deny that I’m a guy that they’ve had a relationship with and have sent money to. They’ve committed everything, all their financial resources, and now to find out that it’s not true, it was all fake,” he told Four Corners.
“They’ve been duped emotionally and they’re out large sums of money. It’s traumatic.”
The real Bryan Denny is a happily married family man in the US state of Virginia who has unwittingly become the poster boy for military romance scams.
His image has been stolen and used thousands of times in fake Facebook, Instagram and online dating profiles.
“This is being done at kind of an industrial scale and how do you stop it? What do you do about it?” he said.
“Military personnel are highly regarded. We’re seen as trustworthy, dependable.
“Over the course of the last two years, I’ve reported over 3,000 accounts to Facebook of scammers using my pictures to steal money from women.
“It’s been tough for my family to have to deal with to a degree, because they reach out to my wife, reach out to my son.”
Chyrel Muzic, from Rockhampton in Queensland, was seduced by a scammer using Bryan Denny’s images, and over two years she sent him $40,000.
“It was all borrowed. I borrowed it out of my bank card. I made a personal loan, and then when that ran out I started getting them off cash converters,” she said.
“I only found out about three weeks ago who he is — 29-year-old Nigerian.”
Four Corners captured Colonel Denny and Ms Muzic meeting for the first time over Skype as they both came to terms with the ordeal of being used.
“Quite frankly I wanted to meet and say that I’m sorry that this happened to you and you were taken advantage of,” Colonel Denny said.
Ms Muzic said she was still struggling to grasp that the man she was in love with was a fake.
“I was totally in love with him. Totally besotted. I’d never loved anyone like I’d loved him. I thought all my dreams had come true,” she said.
Facebook urged to shut down scammers
Colonel Denny is now committed to exposing the scammers.
As part of online group Advocate Against Romance Scams, he has been lobbying Facebook to move faster to shut scammers’ pages down.
Colonel Denny is also pushing the US Senate to force Facebook to police the scammers.
“I’m angry, to say the least. It’s hugely frustrating knowing that you’re talking to a company like Facebook and you’re working to [make them] enforce their own community standards,” he said.
He has trawled through public groups on Facebook where scammers trade skills, fake identities, and even day-to-day scripts to run their scams.
Scammers also advertise photo-doctoring skills for fabricating IDs, and even medical emergencies.
In secret groups on Facebook’s instant messaging service, WhatsApp, fraudsters trade bank accounts for laundering stolen money.
Even when the Facebook groups are shut down by the social media giant, scammers establish new ones which quickly accumulate members.
“They offer Facebook profiles for sale, they offer pictures of uniformed servicemen for sale, they offer the backstory and kind of how you get started. So it’s all right there. It’s in plain sight, it’s not hidden,” Colonel Denny said.