(WMC-TV) - A cruel new scam is preying on an unusual target...the families of prison inmates.
Getting her husband out of prison was Tracy Branson's hope.
"Up front was going to be $5,000. But, then of course, he stated through time, there could be other costs incurred," said Branson.
Branson said the con man promised in return for her money, her husband, Greg, would be released from prison. She ended up handing over $30,000.
Postal inspectors say there has been a rise in a variety of new scams targeting families with loved ones behind bars.
"The con men that we see in these cases make all sorts of crazy claims including that they are lawyers, that they are investigators, that they have political connections to influential people. Using those stories, they gain the trust of the victims and ultimately get their money," said Dan Taylor, U.S. Postal Inspector.
In Branson's case, the con artist gave her daughter, Caitlin, a false hope that one day her dad would be free.
"She was making plans for the rest of her life that would involve her dad, you know," said Branson. "She carried this on for the next few years, through college, the things he was going to see her do, which, in turn, made my hope even stronger because I wanted to believe not just for me, but for her as well."
On the day Branson was expecting to pick her husband up from the prison, the scammer told her the release was called off at the last minute.
"Caitlin completely broke down, and she knew she wasn't going to see her dad that day. That was the hardest, definitely the hardest day," said Branson.
The scammer strung Branson and her family along for almost one year. That's when she decided to do some investigating of her own.
"I had to know one way or the other so I made a phone call and it was that one simple phone call that totally turned everything around," she said.
Postal investigators started working her case and eventually arrested the man behind the scam.
Families of inmates are particularly vulnerable because scammers have little sympathy for them; after all, the inmates are often just like them.
But the families are not.