As if the families of American soldiers serving in Iraq don't have enough worries and concerns, a new scam has emerged that has targeted them.
In early December, an 84-year-old woman who is the grandmother of a 3rd Infantry Division soldier got a call from a man she did not know. The man said he was J.D. Taylor and that he had news for her about her grandson, 1st Lt. David Cowan.
It would be an alarming call for anyone to receive, but Taylor didn't have bad news for Cowan's grandmother. At least it wasn't the worst news she could get, and better yet, there was something she could help her grandson - according to Taylor.
The man identifying himself as Taylor told the woman that Cowan was traveling home on leave from Iraq for the holidays, but unfortunately had lost his wallet and identification along the way. Cowan's grandmother was asked to wire $800 to help Cowan complete his trip and surprise his folks for Christmas.
Fortunately, Cowan's grandmother is savvy and aware that scammers are everywhere.
She didn't buy the story, and didn't wire any money.
She was able to get in touch with Cowan and confirm that he did not need her to send money and that the story was false. Cowan asked her to write down all of the details from the phone call that she received and to contact the police.
Most of the time, people operating scams are not deterred by someone who doesn't fall for their scheme. They simply move on to the next potential victim. Cowan and federal investigators feel that the call that Cowan's elderly grandmother received was not simply an isolated incident, and that other families may be at risk of having their heart and purse strings pulled by criminals.
Because Americans are generally patriotic and many people have family members who are serving in Iraq, scammers have devised their schemes to focus on and target those with military connections.
The FBI has tracked several scams targeting military families over the past several years.
The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center has become aware of several operations similar to the Nigerian e-mail scams in which e-mails are sent, supposedly from soldiers who have stolen, found or somehow come into millions of dollars in Iraq and need assistance moving the money out of the country.
Scammers are chameleons and can adapt to any situation to attempt to drain their victims' bank accounts. Since the scams generally start out with a large amount of money that the scammer claims was obtained in a shady way, the victims are told or feel the need to keep quiet about it. Then, once they have had their bank accounts bled dry, they are often too embarrassed to report the scam.
The Nigerian e-mail scams have been around for years, and now these ruthless scams are targeting military families. Yet despite media attention to these fraudulent schemes and repeated warnings to the public, many people are still victimized. People who have fallen prey to these scams are often financially drained to the point of filing bankruptcy.
It's worth saying again and again, that if a stranger is requesting money either through e-mail or phone contact, not a dime should be released without a thorough investigation of the situation.
If something doesn't sound right, it probably isn't and no one should ever just hand over money to a stranger simply because they called or sent an e-mail.