How it works:
Imagine going about your daily routine when suddenly you receive a phone call that shatters your existence. A voice on the other line informs you that they are at the scene of a car accident. They ask if you have a child that was driving. Panicked, you unwittingly provide the very details needed to pull off this scam. The news goes from bad to worse. Not only was your child in a car accident, but they hit a car belonging to some very bad people. Your child is now being held against their will by a gang member with a gun. The gangbanger wants money for the damage to his car and he wants it now.
The caller instructs you to stay on the phone and warns you not to contact the police. They direct you to get in your car and drive directly to an ATM. To gain your total cooperation, the caller may go so far as to threaten your child with torture. You are directed to withdraw a large sum of money, perhaps $800. Once you have the cash, the caller directs you to meet them at a nearby retail location. They claim that they will release your child, but the kidnappers don’t show up. Instead, the game changes and they instruct you to wire the money. Once this financial transaction is complete, the phone goes dead. Frantically, you attempt to call back the number. There is no answer and no way to leave a voicemail. You decide to risk calling your child’s cellphone, even though the kidnappers told you not to. When you call, your child nonchalantly answers the phone. There was no car accident, no gang member with a gun; you’ve been scammed.
This sickening scam preys on parents’ worst fears. It is understandable why people cooperate, especially when the ransom price is relatively low. Although parents are relieved when they learn that their loved one is safe, their money will likely never be recovered.
What to do:
Do memorize or keep a written list of family cell phone numbers that can be easily accessed if your cell phone is in use.
Do not provide family information over the telephone. Simply responding to a simple question like “Do you have a daughter?” can trigger a kidnapping scam.
Do attempt to identify the location of the caller as well as the family member that has purportedly been kidnapped. The scammer may be unfamiliar with the local area.
Do ask specific questions to assess the validity of the call. Asking the hostage to describe your family member may prompt the caller to stop the scam and hang up.
Do notify the local police as soon as possible, even when instructed not to.
Do save the incoming telephone number along with any text messages, voicemails, or photographs sent by the caller.
Do not panic; this scam feeds on fear. By remaining calm and rational, you may be able to figure out that the call is a hoax.