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Family Matters Blog: Scammer Uses Fallen Hero's Identity

By Heather Forsgren Weaver
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2010 – Heather Forsgren Weaver of American Forces Press Service is a regular contributor to Family Matters. Heather's been heavily involved in this blog from the start. She edits, helps write and posts content on a daily basis.

In this blog, Heather writes about an Internet romance scam using the identities of fallen heroes and other warriors.

New Form of Romance Scam Sickens Blogger

The most popular topic we have written about since Family Matters started 13 months ago is the Internet romance scam. We first wrote about Internet romance scams in "Army Warns of Internet Romance Scams." We then heard from many women who have been victimized by those posing as U.S. servicemembers. We wrote about some of them in "Women Experience Internet Romance Scams."

If those stories weren't bad enough, the story "Scammers Spin Web of Lies About Troops," that we read in the Fort Hood (Texas) Sentinel by Michael Heckman, a Sentinel staff writer, was shocking.

Heckman wrote that a scammer created a fictitious online personality based on Staff Sgt. Bryant Herlem, a soldier killed in Iraq, to attempt to scam a woman he had been romancing on the Internet. The woman, Dagmar, discovered the ruse and contacted the soldier’s widow, LaNita Herlem.

Dagmar wrote an email to LaNita, letting her know that someone representing himself as LaNita's late husband and was now asking Dagmar to send him about $900 so he could fly to Europe.

The problem, and what makes this is a shocking (and in my opinion vile) story, is that someone would use the memory of a fallen soldier to perpetrate a scam.

Sgt. Herlem died in 2006 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee in Baghdad. After his death, LaNita set up a MySpace page to memorialize Sgt. Herlem. The scammer used the photos from this loving memorial to become "Harlem Wilson" on Facebook.

"It is the most painful thing I've dealt with since his death," LaNita told Heckman. "I feel like I've failed my husband because some guy is out there using his picture to scam other women."

MySpace deleted the memorial page within 24 hours of LaNita's e-mail request but the Facebook page remains, Heckman wrote.

Dagmar discovered the ruse when she Googled Sgt. Herlem's last name and found the memorial page.

"From the memorial page I had posted it was pretty obvious Bryant had passed," LaNita told Heckman.

"Harlem Wilson" continued to try to press Dagmar claiming he was on a secret military mission requiring that the world believe he was dead, Heckman wrote.

"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," LaNita said.

Heckman also wrote about an anonymous Fort Hood soldier and his wife that nearly divorced after the wife was contacted by three women claiming they were having online relationships with the soldier.

The couple told Heckman they quarreled until family members saw news reports about women being scammed by people using servicemembers' information.

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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