This has to be a terrifying thought for any parent. A father is spreading the word about a fake kidnapping scam where people call parents phones and claim their children had been kidnapped, demanding money for the child's safe return.
It’s called virtual kidnapping. Basically, it’s an extortion scheme where the caller tries to trick a parent or grandparent into paying a ransom to save a child’s life.
Patrick McDonald of Nokomis got a call that stopped him in his tracks.
He remembers, "All I can hear is a young girl crying....hysterically crying."
As the father of a teenage girl, the words he heard sent chills up his spine.
"Oh, daddy...daddy...please help me!"
He says a male voice then started barking demands.
"'Hey buddy I have your daughter. I've kidnapped her and it's going to cost you a lot of money.'"
That call came to his cell phone from a number he didn’t recognize, so he began pressing the caller for answers saying, "What are you talking about?"
"I said, 'she's in school,'" McDonald said. "He said, 'no, she's not! I picked her up.' And so he said, 'we're going to kill your daughter if you don't pay us a lot of money by this evening.'"
At that point, McDonald demanded the caller put the girl back on the phone.
“He said ‘No! But if you want, I'll cut off two of her fingers, wrap them in her underwear and ship it to you.'"
"I just kept stringing him along because I was very, very angry," McDonald said.
He says the torturous phone call felt like it lasted a lifetime even though he knew his daughter was safe at school.
But he’s sharing his story to help warn other parents who could potentially get a similar phone call.
According the the FBI, law enforcement agencies have been aware of this virtual kidnapping fraud for at least two decades, but the scam has evolved so that U.S. residents anywhere could be potential victims.
According to the FBI, the success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved. To avoid becoming a victim, look for these possible indicators:
- Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone, insisting you remain on the line.
- Calls do not come from the supposed victim’s phone.
- Callers try to prevent you from contacting the “kidnapped” victim.
- Calls include demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer to Mexico; ransom amount demands may drop quickly.
- If you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, the following should be considered:
- In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
- If you do engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.
- Listen carefully to the voice of the alleged victim if they speak.
- Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous.