Tara O’Leary, Staff Writer|
There have recently been multiple reports of virtual kidnappings around the United States. Each of these kidnappings have fit the mold of the ones before it: someone gets a phone call that a person they love has been taken; they must withdraw the demanded ransom and wire it over to an account in Mexico. However, none of these kidnappings have actually happened. Many of the victims found out after they transferred the money that their loved one had been safe the whole time.
The most recent virtual kidnapping was about two weeks ago in Clinton, Utah. Nathan Brough became the victim of the scam after he answered the kidnapper’s call. The voice of a young girl crying and saying, “Sorry, daddy” was all he heard before a man got on the line saying he had kidnapped Brough’s daughter. “He basically tells me, you know, we have your daughter. She means nothing to me. I’m going to kill her if you don’t comply with everything I say,” Brough explained. So he stayed on the phone with the man, went to the bank, took out $3,000, and sent the money over. Once the deed was done, the kidnapper said that he would get his daughter back and hung up the phone. It wasn’t until Brough called his wife that he discovered that he had been scammed. “I didn’t realize this is something people would stoop to without it actually being a real threat,” he said.
Earlier in March, there were two reported virtual kidnappings in Southern California. The first was on March 7, as reported by the Laguna Beach police. “The suspect ordered the victim to stay on the phone with him throughout this incident,” Sergeant Jima Cota stated. “The victim became fearful for his daughter and after briefly hearing a female scream into the phone stating she had been kidnapped, the victim went to his bank and withdrew $5,000.” The victim was told to go to multiple wire transfer locations outside of Laguna Beach, sending all of the money to an account in Mexico. A few hours after the transaction had been completed, he received a phone call from his daughter, who revealed that she had never been kidnapped.
The second Laguna Beach incident took place just a day later when a mother received a call that her daughter had been taken while attending school in Chicago. The same instructions were given to this victim as the one the day before. However, the woman was able to get off the phone with the kidnapper and contact the police. “Once the mother pulled out the money, she called the police department,” Cota reported. “Police officers stopped her on her way out of town and were able to stop the transfer of the money.” The daughter was later confirmed safe at her college in Chicago. Although this particular scam wasn’t successful, the police are frustrated over the fact that it keeps happening. “Two incidents in 24 hours is unacceptable,” said Cota. “We can’t afford to have people lose their hard-earned money.”
In order to make potential victims more aware of these scams, the Laguna Beach police took to Facebook to inform residents of what they should do. “Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask ‘how do I know my loved one is okay,’” the post advised. “If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe a ransom demand is a scheme, contact your local law enforcement immediately.”
The case has since been referred to the FBI. The agency suspects that the callers are not from the United States. “We do believe that phone calls are coming from out of the country, including Mexico,” Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI, told NBC news.