A combat medic claims he returned from Afghanistan to discover a conman had used his photos to catfish around 30 women and dupe them out of thousands of dollars.
US Army veteran Albert Lovato, 39, says pictures he posted on Facebook were stolen and used to create fake profiles on social media and dating sites. Posing as the uniformed dad-of-three, the scammer approached women around the world, including in the US, Canada, India, Costa Rica and the Philippines.
He says the impersonator showered them with compliments, lured them into a long-distance relationship and wooed them with offers of marriage to win their hearts. Then, in chats over Facebook Messenger, the fraudster spun lies about being injured in combat and his children back home being sick and asked them to send him money.
Lovato, who is married to 42-year-old landlord Jane Hamilton, was oblivious to the havoc being wreaked in his name until strangers began messaging him online early last year.
One claimed to be in love with him, another scolded him for breaking her heart, and a third revealed she had sent the man she believed to him a sum of money. In total Lovato claims he is aware of around 30 women who fell victim to the conman, many of whom sent him money.
The veteran said the news, which came shortly after he returned from deployment and following a battle with alcoholism and the death of a close friend, hit him hard.
Meanwhile, the accused conman flashed his newfound wealth around online, posting photos of watches and bundles of cash.
Lovato, of Denver, who is now studying to become a physician assistant, said: "For someone to do this after everything I had been through - I was really angry. I served honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan and this dude swooped in and took my name and face. He used all I have done in my life honorably for dishonorable means.”
"Someone from a distant country is tearing me down. It's a feeling of helplessness. And thinking of what he did to those women is heartbreaking. To suddenly have a man who looks really good and is young and he tells you that he loves you; it's wrenching.”
"These women were telling me they loved me. These people had formed relationships with me and I wasn't even in the country,” he added.
Lovato joined the army in 2006 at 27 and was deployed to Iraq where he served with the military police in Baghdad during the Siege of Sadr City. When he returned to the US he worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 to 2013.
Lovato, who is dad to Sondra, 19, Trinity, 17, and Novia, 16, said: "I came home from Afghanistan and all these foreign women started contacting me through Facebook.
"I was like, “What the heck?” One said, “Albert, I know you are in a relationship but I fell in love with somebody who said they were you. We were together ten months in a long distance relationship.”
"Another woman sent a picture of my face and this girl and it says, “I love you a lot.” She said, “I fell in love with you, I'm crying every day.” He was targeting vulnerable women - single moms, older women and those who didn't have any self-esteem.”
"These women were in love with me when they were contacting me and were hoping I could give them some sort of closure, and it breaks my heart to think of that."
It's unclear exactly how many victims there are, but said he has been contacted by around 30 women, many of whom sent the conman money - $300 or $400 a time.
In a message to him, one Indian woman who was affected said: "I'm broken I'm lost because I fall in love with you by mistake (sic)."
Another victim wrote: "You dropped off the face of the earth and never said anything. Now your (sic) in a relationship. I wish you well Albert. This time please stay truthful with this person."
Last July, Lovato was approached by Vivian Rita, 47, who had been contacted by the fraudster posing as Lovato in December 2016. The office assistant, who does not wish to disclose her last name, was initially taken in by his affection but alarm bells rang when the man promised to fly and see her and sent her a poorly photoshopped plane ticket.
She admits she sent $300 to the scammer after he pleaded with her to help pay for his electricity and was subsequently told by Western Union that it was a scam.
Rita, who has been single six years, confronted the fraudster who revealed himself as a man from Nigeria who had uploaded various photos of watches and bling online. She went on to track Lovato down after noticing his last name on one of the pictures the scammer had sent her and trawling through Facebook.
Rita, of Toronto, Canada, said: "He messaged me and said he wanted to get to know me. I was thinking, “Why would you want to get to know me?' He wooed me. It started very simply - he would say, “How was your day?” or, “Just checking in on you?”
"Then he started asking for money. He said his internet wasn't working and was saying, “Please please please, I won't ask again.” I did it once, but deep down I knew I should have listened to my gut. When I found out it was a scam I was livid that I fell for it.
"I was determined to find out who this guy was. I told him I knew he wasn't the person in the photos and said, “Tell me the truth.” He was saying, “Please, stop.” He finally confessed that he wasn't Lovato and then sent me a picture of himself. He said he wasn't s scammer, that he needed money for school and food. I said, “You're a thief and a liar.”
“I'm doing this for other women. If I can save one person from falling into the trap then I've done my job."
Lovato and Rita did not report the scam to the police because, since the person responsible lives in Africa and his victims were scattered across the globe. They felt it was unlikely they would take action and they also fear that more than one scammer might be responsible.
Instead they began reporting the fake profiles to Facebook who investigated and deleted the accounts. Lovato also messaged one of the profiles directly to confront the person behind it, and screenshots show the man's bizarre reply in broken English, telling him: "Get lost you hungry lion."
Con artists have since targeted Lovato’s military colleagues, prompting the dad to speak of his own experience in an effort to raise awareness.
"I just want to tell people to be careful with their military pictures because, at least in America, military people are viewed as heroic, strong and dependable. My Facebook profile was open at the time and now there is no way to get them back,” Lovato said.
"I want to get the word out to other people to be careful."
This story originally appeared in SWNS.