FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 28, 2007) - Persons making false or misleading statements to families about the death, injury, capture or disappearance of a servicemember during war could be fined, imprisoned or both.

According to the Stop Terrorist and Military Hoaxes Act of 2004, it's a criminal offense to convey false or misleading information about the status of a servicemember during a time of armed conflict. In addition to fines, violators can face up to five years in jail. When serious injury occurs as a result of a hoax, possible jail time increases to 20 years, and life imprisonment is possible if the hoax results in death.

Individuals in anti-war and anti-government groups may prey on family members as an act of rebellion to Soldiers actively engaged in conflict, said Capt. Anthony Adolph, judge advocate, Headquarters, 3d Military Police Group (Criminal Investigations Command).

"Soldiers and their family members are easy targets for such groups who tend to prey on individuals with loved ones serving in combat," Adolph said. "Victims of this scam should know that in the case of injury notifications, the Soldier will be asked to personally call the family. If unable to do so, the call will come from the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at the U.S. Army Human Resources Command or the hospital where the Soldier is recovering."

According to Col. Pat Gawkins, CMAOC director, if a Soldier dies in theater or while recovering in a medical facility, a casualty notification officer will make an in-person notification.

"Unfortunately, there have been circumstances beyond our control when we have had to make notifications by telephone," Gawkins said. "These calls are followed up immediately by a Soldier who will extend condolences.

"We have had issues of the Record of Emergency Data (DD93) not having current addresses or incomplete next-of-kin information, which have caused us to make telephonic notification," he added. "In these cases, by simply trying to verify an address, or one next-of-kin calling another while their casualty notification officer was present, we have made notification. Again, this happens in very few cases, but it does happen."

In addition to the personal visit, Adolph said a casualty assistance officer will provide immediate support for the family member whenever and wherever necessary to help the family through their crisis.

The 2004 Hoax Act is meant to not only protect the victims of a hoax, but responders as well.

"The civil action portion of the statute means that in addition to criminal penalties, a person who violates the statute may be required to pay for the cost of any expenses that an emergency response or investigative agency incurs while responding to their hoax," Stephens said. "Hoaxes distract federal, state and local law enforcement criminal investigators and emergency responders from a real crises and threats, resulting in a risk to public safety and national security."

CID special agents recommend that family members who receive calls concerning the medical status of loved ones deployed to a combat zone note the name and telephone number of the caller, if possible, and contact the local Casualty Office or the American Red Cross to confirm. If the call is determined to be a hoax, immediately report the crime to the local CID office.

Page last updated Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 12:58