Fort Hood Sentinel
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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2014  02:15:04 PM

Scammers spin web of lies about troops

Email   Print   Share By Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
September 9, 2010 | News
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When a German woman identifying herself as Dagmar contacted her, LaNita Herlem, a Gold Star family member who had moved from Fort Hood to North Carolina, was confused.

An e-mail sent to Herlem in May indicated that someone representing himself as her husband had romanced Dagmar for months on the internet before asking her to send him 700 Euros (about $900) so he could fly to Europe and hold her in his arms.

After the poorly written e-mail was resent in German and then translated to Herlem by a friend, the confusion turned to alarm and then anger.

Herlem’s husband, Staff Sgt. Bryant Herlem, died in 2006 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations in Baghdad. Two other Soldiers also died in the blast. Both also were assigned to the 10th Cavalry, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.

After his death, LaNita set up a MySpace.com page to memorialize Bryant. Apparently, the man who scammed Dagmar had copied Bryant’s photos from the memorial page and used them to establish his alter-ego, Harlem Wilson, on Facebook.

“He sent her a fake Army letter accompanied by a photo-copied ID. It was a picture that had been taken in our living room in 2004,” LaNita said Friday during a telephone interview. She moved from Texas to North Carolina in the spring of 2009.

Despite her online lover’s assurances, Dagmar became suspicious. She googled Bryant’s last name and found the memorial page.

“From the memorial page I had posted it was pretty obvious Bryant had passed,” LaNita said.

Undeterred, the scammer claimed he was on a secret military mission requiring that the world believe he was dead. He had been badly wounded, he added.

It was a long time before “Harlem Wilson’s” victim e-mailed LaNita.

“It is the most painful thing I’ve dealt with since his death. I feel like I’ve failed my husband because some guy is out there using his picture to scam other women,” she said.

Although MySpace deleted the memorial within 24 hours of the e-mail request LaNita made after communicating with Dagmar, a Facebook page containing her husband’s photos has yet to be removed.

A friend suggested LaNita call the FBI. She contacted its Charlotte, N.C., office.

“They referred me to the Internet fraud unit online and there’s nothing they can do because the guy’s in Africa, not the U.S.,” LaNita said.

As a result of her heart-breaking experience, LaNita recommends people not friend anyone they don’t know on a social website.

Because of the pesonal pain she has suffered and that others may still be scammed by the misuse of Bryant’s copied photos, LaNita emphasized, “To be honest, I think I hate this guy as much as I hate the man who killed Bryant. I hate what he is doing and I hate feeling helpless to do anything about it.”

Thousands of other victims of such scams share LaNita’s feeling of helplessness. They fear that the Internet is so nebulous, and authorities so overwhelmed, that the scams can proliferate.

Closer to home, a Fort Hood couple nearly divorced after a Soldier’s wife was contacted in July by three women who claimed he had been having an online relationship with them.

“Deep down inside I thought it (our marriage) was coming to an end ... that I’d get a knock on the door and someone would hand me my divorce papers,” the tank crew member said recently.

Although he denied knowing any of the women, his wife, who has lived near Conroe since he deployed to Iraq in 2009, didn’t believe him. After ignoring the problem a few days (“I was taking care of the kids and going to cosmetology school so I was focused more on that,” she explained), she called him at work.

“She asked ‘What the hell are you doing?’” he recalled. “I’m at a loss for words; I can’t explain myself. I was ... doing air assaults. It got me really, really upset with her thinking her husband is out there screwing around.”

The couple said they quarreled and had trust issues for weeks until his mother and brother saw a CNN report about women being scammed by people in Africa and other locations. They also found out about Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham, operations NCOIC for the 504th Brigade Field Support Battalion.

For several years Grisham has blogged about military personnel who have been victimized by Internet scams on soldiersperspective.us. He also writes about military and national security issues on a weekly blog at youserve.com and participates in its companion radio talk show.

“I called C.J. and told him what happened. He called (my wife) and they talked,” the tanker said.

Although the women who contacted his wife did not ask for money, the couple feels they suffered a significant loss.

“It was a trust issue for what seemed like a long time,” she said.

They say they have resolved the trust issues.

The examples cited involved emotional as much as financial losses, but Grisham said he has been contacted by thousands of military personnel and civilians over the past few years. Some of them have lost more than $22,000, he added.

To gain the women’s trust and “fall in love,” Grisham said, some scammers portray themselves as being single parents whose spouses have died in a tragic accident.

“They use that to gain sympathy from women; here’s a poor single Soldier trying to raise a child. It pulls on heart strings of the women they’re trying to scam,” Grisham said.

To support their stories, the scammers often create fake letters from the Soldier’s commanding general, he added.

“The name of the CG of third infantry division at Fort Stewart, Ga., (Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo) was used a few weeks ago,” he said.

Grisham also has been notified of scams that used the names of Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force – Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top military commander in Iraq, and Fort Hood’s commanding general, Lt. Gen. Bob Cone, deputy commanding general for operations, U.S. Forces – Iraq.

“Go on Facebook or Skype and type in David Petraeus; there are 30 or 40 on Skype and a dozen on Facebook with the same photos and only one is the real guy,” Grisham said.

At whatever stage the victims become aware of the scam, he added, “It’s usually too late.”

Grisham also has been a victim of Internet ploys. Happily married, he once found his profile posted with information suggesting he was single since his wife had died in a tragic automobile accident.

Although he has contacted several scammers in an effort to discourage them, Grisham said, “They just laugh at you. (One of them) came out and said ‘what are you going to do about it? I make thousands every day.’”

The military, he lamented, “...can do nothing but make people aware. You’d think something could be done at the national level. I’d like to know, where is the State Department or Secret Service in this?”

Even now, Grisham said, when he scans Facebook and other social sites he finds Soldiers’ profiles that are open to the public.

“Soldiers should protect themselves by making their profiles private and not sharing their information in any public forum; only friends can see my Facebook profile,” he added.

Because local, state and federal law enforcement officials have limited success in dealing with the problem of Internet scams, he added, increasing awareness of the problem among Soldiers and the public is necessary.

“It’s a worldwide problem,” Grisham said.
 
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