E-mail con men look to profit from tragedy of war

Only the good die young and ...

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— I feel confident in assuming that many of you have been as transfixed as have I by the television news coverage of this war.

We are alternately fascinated and repulsed by the 24-hour news cycle that feeds us mind-boggling real-time images of modern combat.

Sometimes I ask myself, "How can you keep watching this stuff?"

Other times I wonder aloud, "How can I ignore it?"

The late NBC correspondent David Bloom, with his cameraman Craig White, epitomized this technologically dazzling newsgathering of the 21st century.

Rumbling along on the back of an M88 tank recovery vehicle at 50 mph, they bounced their reports off satellites as the Iraqi desert spun away behind them.

As brilliant as the reporting was, there was something unsettling about it.

When the inevitable commercial break arrived, I would punch a button on the remote and the scores from the NCAA basketball tournament would replace the carnage.

Other times, it was a Simpsons rerun, or an old Seinfeld episode.

The juxtaposition of unprecedented battlefield reporting with everyday sports and entertainment programming has imparted a surreal quality to the last two weeks.

Perhaps it was a mistake to have ever begun watching.

I'm going to turn it off for an hour now so I can relate an odd little story of my own.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any stranger this week, the computer on my desk at work made that "bling" sound that means a new e-mail has arrived.

On the surface, this e-mail message was like no other I had ever received -- the sender claimed to be writing from Baghdad.

I read no more than two sentences before I realized that Eng. Farouk Al-Bashar, if there even was such a person, had to be a con man.

His letter represented a new twist on an e-mail con that has become familiar by now. Usually I receive these letters from earnest sounding men in Nigeria who are seeking greedy suckers who think it's possible to get something for nothing.

Perhaps you've seen it too:

"By way of introduction, I am Eng. Farouk Al-Bashar. I represent my family as the oldest son of the Al-Bashar family, who are the descendants of Ibrahim Al-Bashar Ali from one of the oil rich areas in Iraq. Over the years, my family has acquired huge sums of money from royalties for the exploration of oil in our region, but over the past 15 years, Saddam and his gangs of bandits have taken our oils without payments, and we cannot complain, as those who did are all dead."

Bummer, Farouk.

Mr. Farouk Al-Bashar goes on to explain that his family has hidden $12.5 million U.S. in cash in a secret underground chamber. With bombs falling on Baghdad and the end approaching, the family is eager to leave for the West and they are looking for an American partner to help them engage a "private collection agency" that would magically extricate the cash from Iraq (they learned of this from a U.S. Marine.)

"The private collection agency would then collect the funds from here and deliver it to you for safekeeping. Hoping the American campaign would be successful, we would then come over to your country for a meeting to share the funds and hopefully start a new life with you as a partner. For your assistance with the project the family is willing to give you 10 percent of the funds. However, if this does not suit you we are open for negotiation."

I find this last remark by Farouk Al-Bashar to be very comforting.

If the American people ever doubted whether the Iraqis would embrace them upon being liberated, now we know the answer. The Al-Bashar family is willing to trust me, Tom Ross, with $12 million!

It gives me goose bumps all over just thinking about it. Still, business is business, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask the Al-Bashar family for 12 percent.

There's just one catch. The last sentence reads: "We eagerly await your response so we can inform you of the next line of action."

Well, I'm no dummy and I've seen this movie before. I'm guessing the next line of action calls for me to wire $10,000 to my new friend Farouk so he can give it to the Marine, who will keep $750 for himself and provide the balance to the "private collection agency," so they can go retrieve the $12 million from the cave and take it across the border into Jordan on the backs of camels.That's a problem.

See, I have the $10,000 no problem. But that's the money for my son's college education and my wife says I can't invest those funds in high-risk ventures like secret Iraqi oil spoils. That money has to go into surefire things, like betting on the Broncos to win the 2004 Super Bowl.

So, I'm putting together an investment syndicate right here in Steamboat Springs to help the Al-Bashar family. You know how to contact me if you are interested.

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This world is full of all kinds of people. There are some who look at the human suffering taking place in Iraq and see a fresh wrinkle for their con game. There are many thousands who put their lives on the line for their country. And there are a handful who ride shotgun on the backs of armored vehicles so they can do what they were born to do -- that is to tell the biggest story of their lives, and tell it well.

On Saturday night, I was both in awe of, and envious of, David Bloom. A part of me even wanted to be David Bloom. By Sunday morning, I no longer wished to trade places with Bloom, I was merely in awe of him. What a hell of a good reporter he was. What a legacy he left behind.

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