VALDOSTA — Americans with a desire to assist military men and women servingoverseas have become prime targets for a new string of e-mail scamsresponsible for tricking many innocent people out of thousands of dollars.

The Valdosta Daily Times newsroom recently received an e-mail,through the newspaper’s e-mail system, which clearly shows that this is a news organization. The e-mail was reportedlyfrom a member of the U.S. Army Third Infantry Division serving in Baghdad, Iraq. According to the e-mail, the soldier and his superior officers were among those who uncovered large amounts of money totaling $45 million suspected of belonging to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Though the initial story seems believable, the scam soon unraveled.

The e-mail continues with a plea for help. The soldier states that he and the others involved do not want to disclose the uncovered loot to the U.S. military and need a trustworthy ally to assist them in bringing the cash to the United States. E-mail recipients are asked if they are trustworthy and willing to safeguard the funds until the soldiers complete their terms in the military. According to the letter, for services rendered, the e-mail recipient who agrees to participate will receive 30 percent of the total with 30 percent going to the soldier and 30 percent going to the superior officer. The remaining 10 percent is supposedly set aside for expenses.

Toward the end of the e-mail message, the soldier pleads, “My job is to find a good partner that we can trust and who is willing to assist us. Can I trust you?”

Recipients are then asked to reply to the e-mail and provide a confidential telephone or fax number so that further instruction can be delivered in a secure fashion. Out of curiosity, a member of the VDT staff responded to the initial e-mail providing the number to a company cell phone.

Once the e-mail was received by the sender, a second e-mail was delivered providing further information about the transaction. According to the e-mail, a diplomat was being utilized to ensure the secure transition of the funds into a private bank account number provided by the staff member.

However, a full name, address, telephone number and fax number had to be provided in order for an attorney to complete a “change of ownership.”

Photos were even attached to the e-mail showing the apparent driver’s license of the soldier to ensure the recipient of the seriousness of the transaction, along with photos showing money being counted in a bunker in Iraq. Web site addresses are also listed and linked to stories online regarding money found in Iraq.

Finally, the company cell phone rang and “the diplomat” was on the line asking when would be the best time to meet in London, England, to secure the transaction.

Though the staff member stated that a trip to London would not be possible, the diplomat provided assurance that once he made the trip to the U.K., a call would be returned and a new system for securing the funds could be established. Two days later, another call was received and the diplomat had apparently made it to London. Now, the final stage in the plot was for the staff person to provide the number to a secured bank account in Georgia where the funds could be transferred and held until the soldier and his superior served their remaining time in the military.

Unfortunately, the charade could not be continued and a sense of suspicion caught “the diplomat,” who quickly hung up and has not yet called back.

The Third Infantry Division of the U.S. Army is stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. and there is currently no Sgt. Irvin Shawn listed on that base.

The Valdosta Army recruiting station was unable to determine whether or not there was a Sgt. Irvin Shawn in the Army at all.

Similar scams are being developed and carried out daily across the United States and throughout the world.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations has labeled these schemes as E-scams and provides a list of tips on how to keep your identity and your money protected:

• Be cautious when responding to requests delivered through unsolicited e-mail.

• Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as officials asking for donations through unsolicited e-mails or requesting help delivering funds to a charity or other program.

• If you donate to a charity, ensure the contributions are received

and used for the intended purposes. Contact recognized organizations directly; don’t rely on others to make the donation on your behalf.

• Beware of e-mails asking for personal information.

• Be skeptical about any offer that asks you to keep the information confidential until the transaction is complete.

• If the offer of an “opportunity” appears too good to be true, it probably is. Follow common business practices. For example, legitimate business is rarely conducted in cash on a street corner.

• Know who you are dealing with. If you have not heard of a person or company that you intend to do business with, learn more about them. Depending on the amount of money that you intend to spend, you may want to visit the business location, check with the Better Business Bureau, or consult with your bank, an attorney or the police.

• Make sure you fully understand any business agreement you enter into. If the terms are complex, have them reviewed by a competent attorney.

• Be wary of businesses that operate out of post office boxes or mail drops and do not have a street address or of dealing with persons who do not have a direct telephone line, who are never “in” when you call, but always return your call later.

• Be wary of business deals that require you to sign non-disclosure or non-circumvention agreements that are designed to prevent you from independently verifying the bona fides of the people with whom you intend to do business. Con artists often use non-circumvention agreements to threaten their victims with civil suits if they report their losses.

For information on common fraud schemes, visit www.fbi.gov.

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