“I didn’t want my son to be worried about money being drained from his account,” she said. “I wanted him to keep his head down, to just stay safe.” Back in February, Mann had some downtime and went online to review his bank account when the suspect charges stared back from the screen. The 800 number provided to report such problems didn’t work from Iraq so he sought his mom’s help. “Hey, I think I have some fraudulent charges on my credit card, I already contacted 1 company and I need to call this number … to give them info so they can refund the money (only I can’t call that type of number from over here),” Mann wrote in a Feb. 12 e-mail to Duke. Mann, who is with the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, N.C., has been in the Army for 2 1/2 years and was deployed to Iraq in August. He created a joint account with his mom before leaving and gave her power of attorney. His paychecks were direct-deposited and he relied on the debit card at the PX. Duke, 55, a special-education teacher at a San Fernando Valley High School, didn’t have her son’s debit card number and without it the bank wouldn’t let her proceed. Afraid of transmitting sensitive information online, she asked Mann to call – but that took time because base communications are often blacked out to prevent news of severe injuries or soldier deaths from leaking out before families are notified, she said. A week later the bank’s fraud unit called Duke on a Sunday and she managed to get the card blocked. The following Tuesday she marched into the bank’s Valencia branch where she met another warrior – Gwen Smith, the service officer – who made some calls, and met some resistance. “I could hear her from across the bank, she kept repeating, `He’s in Iraq, he can’t do this! … I have met this young man, I know he’s there.’ She was furious,” Duke said. Duke was seeking an alternative to company policies that required signed papers to be returned to the bank within 10 days. Duke said more than $1,000 was plundered from her son’s account. She said turnaround time with mail to Iraq can take eight weeks, but Smith expedited matters and got Mann a new card in just days. Smith sometimes sees four identity theft cases a month but this was a first. “I told them I needed someone to override certain procedures because this was an extremely rare situation and it was urgent,” Smith said. She didn’t stop there. Through the bank’s idea network, Smith suggested rules should be changed to accommodate clients who are fighting in a war and don’t have easy access to their bank. An investigation into the theft is continuing. It appears Mann’s Social Security number is safe, and he doesn’t know where or when his bank card numbers were stolen – it may have been when he was home on leave. The Army is not responsible for armoring soldiers’ bank accounts, but offers some pointers. “(This) is a rare occurrence, but the Army does tell us … warn us, protect your identity, protect your credit cards,” said Gail Anderson, an Army reservist and spokeswoman for the Army recruiting battalion of Los Angeles. The Federal Trade Commission says roughly 9 million Americans may be victimized by identity theft annually. Mann, who attended ROTC classes at Valencia High School, was due to return home in August, but could be held over since the military has increased some deployments to 15 months or more. In September, Duke helped form Blue Star Mothers of the Canyons, the area’s second chapter of the nationwide support group for moms whose offspring are serving in the military. The chapter may be contacted at P.O. Box 220685, Newhall, CA 91322-0685 or at [email protected] [email protected] (661) 257-5255 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SANTA CLARITA As a young Army medic was tending to casualties in Iraq, a thief who ripped off his debit card number was merrily ringing up charges on the soldier’s account. Repairing his banking problem was as tough a task as patching limbs shredded by mortar attacks. Fortunately for Spc. Alexander Mann, 21 – a Hart High School graduate – his mom Debi Duke was jointly named on the account. Busting through brush-offs, delays and red tape, Duke fought the banking battle at home.