A 3rd Infantry Division soldier deploying to Iraq is warning other servicemembers of the latest scam to target troops and their families.
According to 1st Lt. David Cowan, in early December his 84-year-old grandmother received a phone call from a man calling himself J.D. Taylor. The man claimed that Cowan was on his way home on leave from Iraq for the holidays, but had gotten hung up and lost his wallet and military identification card.
Cowan's grandmother, he said, was "asked by this person to wire $800, allegedly on my behalf so that I could get back home and surprise my family for Christmas."
The claim was a scam. Luckily for Cowan and his family, his grandmother knew to be suspicious of strangers asking for money, even if they'd somehow managed to reach the relatives of a soldier whose name they knew.
"I told her to write down everything she could remember from the conversation and to immediately contact the authorities," Cowan wrote in an e-mail to Stripes. "My grandmother is 84, and still a very sharp woman. Thankfully, she immediately saw through his scam and decided to contact me directly."
Cowan suspects the scam artist will try a similar ruse with other military families. And according to federal investigators, he's probably right.
In recent years, the FBI has tracked a growing number of scams targeting military families or making false claims to prey on the public's feelings of good will for troops.
The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center has tracked scams including ones sent from purported soldiers who have found or "stolen" millions of dollars in Iraq. Those scams are similar to the "Nigerian" e-mail scams.
"The scam e-mails vary in content; however, the general theme of each is to request personal information and/or funds from the individual receiving the e-mail," according to an FBI primer on the subject.
Despite repeated warnings about these particular or general scams, FBI officials say, many people still fall for them.
Investigators say Cowan handled the situation correctly. Law enforcement authorities advise people to never provide any personal or financial information over the phone or send money to a stranger on a relative's behalf.
If contacted by a suspicious-sounding person, one should record the details of the conversation and immediately contact local and federal authorities, they say.