Armed with plenty of caffeine and a laptop, Anthony Anderson works from his South Carolina home to expose a unique type of deception: stolen valor, where people pretend to be service members, or actual service members and veterans who exaggerate or lie about their war stories. A piece in the Atlantic details how Anderson works to uncover fraudulent military claims, using both his Facebook page and website—the latter of which was instrumental in 2013 in exposing an American Idol contestant who claimed he had suffered a brain injury after an IED explosion while serving in Iraq—to get the word out on the scammers. Anderson started his amateur investigative service about five years ago and gets some of his leads from Doug Sterner, an ex-combat engineer in Vietnam who first came across some of his own fakers while setting up a database of real military heroes.
When he gets a tip, Anderson—himself a staff sergeant with South Carolina's National Guard—first heads to his computer for some online scouring, where he hopes to match a name with a DOB or Social Security number. With that info, it's easier for him to track down the basics (e.g., where a person served and when). If he needs more details, he can file a FOIA request. Anderson says he just wants the truth in his searches, and he takes false accusations seriously, making sure to try to contact alleged fraudsters to get their side. As for whether he feels more "distaste" for civilians playing military or service members hyping up their contributions, Anderson notes: "If you served, you should know better than a civilian what it means. … For somebody else to claim it when they haven't earned it, it just makes you angry." (Prosecutors say a veteran faked war wounds to get a Purple Heart and $750K in benefits.)