What to Know
A Massachusetts woman thought she had met the perfect man on an online dating site
The man appeared to in the military, but he raised her suspicion when he asked for a sum of money
When the woman did a reverse search of the man's photo online, she discovered it was a photo of an NBC New York sports anchor
Sandra Eckenreiter of Fairhaven, Massachusetts thought she had met the perfect man.
“He says, 'I’m doing good, but doing better now that you are here, my love,'” she said as she read one of his texts.
She met him on Match.com. It was her first attempt at Internet dating.
“My husband’s passed. I have four kids,” she explained. “I work, and I work all the time.”
The man told her his name was Sergeant Hill, a soldier stationed in Kabul, and she believed him. He sent her pictures periodically. Him in uniform, holding an American flag; a picture of him chilling in the pool.
She thought she was falling in love with a military man who had the kindest and sweetest words for her. But he raised her suspicion when he asked for a sum of money.
“I asked, 'What do you need money for? You work in the military, you should be getting paid,'" she recalled.
It was at that point that Eckenreiter asked herself, "What am I doing?”
Eckenreiter did a reverse search of Sergeant Hill’s picture online.
“What starts popping up is he’s a news correspondent, he’s a former tennis player,” Eckenreiter recalled. “I said, 'Oh my, this guy is right here in New York.'”
Eckenreiter contacted NBC New York because the picture of her sergeant was actually NBC New York’s Harry Cicma, who reports on sports.
“I thought it was really important for [Cicma] to know, because it didn’t just affect me. It was affecting him too now," she said.
Cicma had no idea his images were being used this way.
“To think that they actually took my picture, spent probably hours in Photoshop, taking my head, putting it on, that’s creepy,” Cicma said when the I-Team showed him his face on a military man’s body.
Cicma says he has never been in the military and has never even worn a soldier’s uniform as a costume. He also does not know Eckenreiter.
“To know that she’s struggling, and that someone was using my picture... to falsely make her feel better and then they were trying to get money, it made me feel absolutely terrible,” Cicma said.
The I-Team gave the photoshopped photos of Cicma to an internet site called Socialcatfish.com to see what they would find out about Cicma.
“We had eight profiles on different dating sites with Harry's images and fake names,” said co-founder Moe Meyers.
That’s eight different profiles that could potentially be used to reel in others. Meyers says 95 percent of fake profiles they discover are of military men.
"I just think people love a man in uniform," Meyers said. "They just think, 'This guy is not going to scam me, they’re trustworthy.'"
In hindsight, Eckenreiter says there were red flags. No phone calls, no Facetime. Right away, they started texting. Eckenreiter says it was his idea.
"'I can’t talk to you while I’m on a mission,' he would say," she recalled.
Match.com says Hill's account was “…blocked by the Match fraud team” one day after the account was created. The website says that they have a "dedicated team and sophisticated technology that patrols for fraud."
Eckenreiter reported this to Match.com, as well as to her local police department. But John Jay College cyber expert Marie Helen Maras says there’s one more step.
“You should report to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. This is a website that collects information about these types of frauds and other forms of cybercrime," she said.
Cicma has done this as well. After learning his profile has been used in multiple places, he hopes companies can weed out the fraudsters.
"We just have to find a way to stop this and clean it up for everyone. And there has to be a way to do it," he said.
Cyber experts say if there is one thing you should absolutely avoid, never send money to anyone you don't know.
Because once you do, your profile could be identified by scammers as an "easy target" and be shared among other catfishing networks — leaving you vulnerable to future scams.