A chill ran through my body and I immediately felt sick to my stomach when I read this NextDoor post from a local mom. The tale of her child’s virtual kidnapping is literally one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read.
For years, we’ve covered the “grandparent” scam: Con artists call up unsuspecting old folks and tell them their grandchild is in some precarious situation, and they need money immediately.
That has evolved into virtual kidnappings where scammers claim they’re holding your loved one for ransom. The FBI recently issued a warning about virtual kidnappings, but until now, I’ve only ever heard of scammers claiming to have adult victims.
Generally they mine the victim’s Facebook page and strike when they know the person is unreachable. However, preying on a mother’s love for her child brings this scam to a whole new level.
Here is one mother’s nightmare in her own words (she gave us permission to share this anonymously):
Here’s a link to her story on KPIX:
Bay Area Mother Recounts Daughter’s Terrifying ‘Virtual Kidnapping’
I need to share with our neighborhood a horrible experience I endured yesterday because I never, never want this to happen to anyone else.
Yesterday I was the victim of a “virtual” kidnapping cyberscam. Before I go further —- All is ok. Family is ok. No money lost. But I’m completely traumatized. This is what happened…
Yesterday around 3:30, my babysitter left for the pool with my kids while I worked from home. At 4:15 my phone rang. It was a call from an unfamiliar number. When I picked up, all I could hear was what sounded like a screaming child. I couldn’t decipher what she was saying. I kept saying “I don’t understand. I don’t understand. Is this (my daughter)…are you ok?” At that point a man with a Hispanic accent picked up the phone and said “Meredith…I have your daughter. If you do exactly what I say, everything will be okay and you’ll have her back today. I kidnap people for a living. All I care about is money. I don’t give a F*** about your daughter. I want to know how much cash you can get your hands on right now.”
I panicked, of course…my worst nightmare and then my phone dropped the connection. I immediately texted my husband that I thought my daughter was in danger. Before I could do anything else, the man called me back and said, “Don’t you hang up on me again or I’ll kill her. Call no one. How much money can you get right now?” I told him an amount I thought I could quickly from the bank and he said “Here is how this is going to work. I will call you mami, you will call me son. You won’t hang up the phone. You hang up the phone and your daughter dies. She means nothing to me. Not worth life in prison. Not worth shit. You do what I say or she dies…ok mami? Get in the car, tell me where you are, what bank you are going to?”
He continued to ask me to tell him everything, every turn, every traffic jam, not to hang up, to call no one, to decline incoming calls, to put a smile on my fu**ing face and walk into the bank. He told me to keep the phone in my pocket. He wanted to hear everything. I did as he asked but continued to try to text my husband. But here’s the thing. I have Verizon and with Verizon you can’t send or receive imessages if you are also on the phone. (I know now that my husband was trying to both call and text me back.) You can change the messages to TEXT and get them to go through. I was trying this while still talking to the man on the phone. Anytime I asked a question he said, “Don’t ask stupid questions mami or you’ll get your daughter killed… she’s nothing to me.”
Once I withdrew money from the bank, he told me to drive to the Lucky on Magnolia. When I arrived, he gave me specific wiring instructions for a contact in Mexico and told me to go into the Moneygram and wire the money for “pickup in minutes.” As I was about to do this, a friend’s text (not imessage) finally came through WANT TO HELP. He had been in touch with my husband who told him to tell me that my daughter was fine. Which I didn’t believe, because I was so scared. I asked him several times if he was 100% sure. And once I could finally believe him, I ran to my car, hung up and drove home as quickly as I could to wrap my arms around my daughter.
Oddly, the man continued to call me over and over again. Once in my driveway, I picked up and told him I knew he didn’t have my daughter. He replied, “F**k you, b***h, I’m gonna kill her” and I hung up one last time.
This all happened more than 24 hours ago. I am still a mess, and I suspect I will be for awhile. But I wanted to share, because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.
I don’t know where he got my information…my phone number, my name, the fact that I had a daughter. I’m sure it could have come from any number of places but scammers are for sure mining information from places like Facebook and beyond – so much so that the FBI recently released a warning about virtual kidnapping. At the very least, check your privacy settings, check out the following links and share with all of your friends.
CBS News recently covered this scam in relation to adults on social media. The same basic principles apply to child kidnappings.
Remember that scammers can access anything you share on social media. By mining your posts, crooks can figure out when your kids are with the sitter or at school and when you’re at work. Once they have your name, they can also easily access your address, phone number, etc., via public records.
Bottom line, if someone says they have your kid (or any family member), it’s likely a scam. The FBI’s tips are a good start, but not foolproof.
You can try to ask questions that only your child or loved one would know, but a scammer is likely going to avoid questions like that and prey on your fear. You can try to determine if the call is a fake by checking caller ID, but it is simple to spoof any phone number to make it look like they’re calling from your loved one’s phone.
The good news: These scammers are likely in another country, so the actual physical threat is probably minimal. The bad news: Many moms in “mamma bear” mode may err on the side of caution because, God forbid, what if!?!
It’s one thing to get a fake call from the IRS or the FBI — most people know by now that the real federal agencies will never call you and that you should simply hang up. But when someone threatens your child, it’s hard to now how you’ll respond.
Your best bet is to be prepared. Think of how you would react in this situation and set up a plan.
Do you have another phone that you can use to text a loved one and ask them to check on your child? Is there someone you can email? Would you be able to get a hold of your child?
Depending on who you talk to, the advice varies.
Some say – simply hang up. Others suggest that you come up with a script in advance, stay calm and keep the bad guy on the phone until you can confirm your child is safe. Either way, call the cops.
But most importantly, share this information with all your mom friends so they can be prepared!
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A frightening phone scam targeting Oakland Unified School District families has prompted school officials to issue a warning to parents.