An internet love scam targeting lonely women has hijacked the identity of Australia's top military official, incoming chief of the Australian Defence Force Mark Binskin.
A dual Defence Department and Australian Federal Police investigation has been launched after a German woman alerted Fairfax Media to the rort that attempts to dupe women into handing over cash to fraudsters hiding behind the names and photographs of top military personnel.
Air Marshal Binskin is among several high-profile international figures whose identities have been used to create fraudulent Facebook accounts to trick women into parting with their money in return for promises of romance and lifetime companionship. New Zealand's defence force is also investigating an account purporting to belong to former defence chief Rhys Jones, the second time since 2012 that his identity has been stolen by impersonators on social media.
On Thursday, Facebook suspended several other profiles, including pages portraying top-ranking US and European military commanders and a fake profile of American astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Anna Linden, 54, a waitress in Aachen, west Germany, said she received a Facebook message from a man claiming to be Air Marshal Binskin after accepting his friend request at the end of May - less than two months after Air Marshall Binskin was named Australia's new chief of defence.
General David Hurley will hand over to Air Marshal Binskin on July 3.
Ms Linden received messages, seen by Fairfax Media, claiming Air Marshall Binskin was serving in Kabul in Afghanistan, but he would soon retire and was looking for a partner as he had been single for eight years. The real Mark Binskin is married to wife Gitte.
The messages, written in German, quickly escalated to declarations from the impersonator that "I really love you" and "I promise you my life".
Then Ms Linden received a message that Air Marshall Binskin was stuck in London without a valid visa and if she would pay €300 for a plane ticket to Spain he would join her on a holiday and repay her by selling five kilograms of gold he had in his possession.
"You will never regret it" the message said.
Instead, Ms Linden decided to report the impostor as she had been duped once before by a fake Facebook romance last year that tricked her into paying €8000 over the course of a year. She contacted Fairfax Media, which notified Defence.
"I knew he would just keep asking for more money," Ms Linden said.
She is aware of other women in Germany and two in other countries who have been approached by the Binskin impersonator.
A Defence spokeswoman said the department had not been aware that the nation's top military brass was being used to target lonely hearts but an investigation had been launched.
The AFP said it had provided advice to Defence about having the page removed by Facebook.
A spokeswoman for the New Zealand Defence Force said it had reported a fraudulent account claiming to belong to Lieutenant-General Jones, then its chief of defence, to New Zealand police in 2012.
"This case in 2014 appears to be a new impersonation page and the NZDF will now take similar action," she said.
Facebook has also suspended accounts on the friends list for the Binskin page that appear to be false profiles for senior military officials from the US, Slovakia, Ukraine and Luxembourg.
A recent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report on targeting scams found that romance-related fraud is on the rise and Australians were swindled out of $25.2 million through lonely hearts scams last year.