More police departments are warning about a phone scam, where someone claims your son or daughter has been kidnapped.
Diane Peters captured one of the chilling and convincing calls on her phone, and agreed to talk about the very frightening evening in her life when she got the call, because she wants everyone to know about the phone scam that still terrifies her.
"I want you to get inside your car right now," the anonymous man said in her cell phone recording. The man claimed he had kidnapped one of her two daughters, and said that if police found out, he would kill the 20-something woman.
The most important thing to him was that no one was to know. "I told you to wait, and I told you to keep your mouth shut," he said on the recording of the call.
"I was picturing my one daughter, with the gun to her head, and someone is telling her she needs to give them money," Peters said.
The caller had a simple demand: he wanted a $500 ransom wired to a number in Mexico, at which point he would set the girl free. Of course, he was not holding her daughter hostage, but Peters had no way of knowing that at the time.
"I know exactly where you live," the caller said in the recording, "and if you say something, I'm gonna hang up the phone and I'm coming inside your house."
"You just literally fall apart," Peters said, not knowing which of her two daughters was in captivity.
At first she thought it was one, then she thought it was the other.
How the scam works
What makes this scam so effective is the way they keep you on the phone, while sending victims out to get gift cards or drive to an ATM for cash, that you are then instructed to wire to them. Once you send it, the money is untraceable. They make sure you don't call friends, family or the police, because that would instantly stop the ruse.
A few weeks back, Natalie Bruser got a similar call. "I answered and it sounded like kids crying, and I couldn't figure out who it was," she said.
She heard what appeared to be a teenager crying out for help in the background. She thought it was her daughter. "They were crying super hard, and so I was hysterical," Bruser said.
The caller told her he had grabbed her daughter outside her home, and that she was now in a black SUV, held hostage by armed men. (You would think they could be more creative than presenting a black SUV image out of a Hollywood, but it's effective.)
But in both cases, their daughters were home safe, and knew nothing about their mothers' hour or two of terror.
It's called the "virtual kidnapping scam." The FBI is investigating, but the agency believes most of the calls originate in Mexico. Police say the best thing to do is be aware of this scam, so that if you get a call telling you to get in your car and not tell anyone what is happening, you know to say "no."
Instead, police say:
- Try to call or text your son or daughter, who is probably home, safe and sound.
- On iPhones and most Android phones, you can minimize a phone call and make a text without hanging up the phone call.
- You should then call police to let them know about the call.
Flustered? Pull off the road at a gas station, and wave down a passerby.
Police believe the caller does not even know your child's name, but is calling people randomly, knowing that many people who answer will have children, and can be convinced that a loved one is in peril.
And if you have never heard of this, it is very convincing.