YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Imagine receiving a phone call from a familiar area code on a late weekday morning. You don’t recognize the number, but decide to answer anyway. When you do, you hear the screams of young woman in the background, followed by a man saying, “We have your daughter.”
This man might even have specific details, including your daughter’s name and the school she attends. He says harm will come to your daughter unless you wire him money.
A similar situation recently happened to a Yorktown woman, who was targeted in what the FBI calls a “virtual kidnapping” scam.
The woman, who requested anonymity, said she and her brother were targeted simultaneously.
The perpetrators told the Yorktown woman that her brother had been kidnapped and was being held in a basement, and was gagged and bound. At the same time, they told the brother that her daughter had been kidnapped, was being held at gunpoint, and they would shoot her if he didn’t send money. The perpetrators used the names of both alleged kidnap victims.
“Having street smarts, we both suspected a scam,” the woman said.
However, the perpetrators managed to put her brother on the phone to “prove” they had him. The woman suspects this may have been done by using the speaker phone function.
“And I was able to ask him questions for which he only knew the answers,” she said. “That’s what made it real.”
Still suspecting a scam, the woman then used her office phone to call her brother’s wife, who confirmed his safety. Though he was safe, her brother said the perpetrators told him a different story—they had kidnapped her daughter.
The Yorktown woman described a feeling of terror as she both unsuccessfully tried to call her daughter and was told by a college employee, who is also a family friend, that she was absent from a class she was scheduled to attend.
“That was the horror,” the woman said. “She could not be found quickly enough until her father set aside a legal matter and instead drove down to her thankfully nearby dorm and demanded access.”
The Yorktown woman has since spoken to friends about what took place, only to hear that others they knew were targeted by a similar scam.
“This is an act of terrorism and people should not stay quiet about it,” she said. “So, if you see, hear or experience something, say something.”
She said the scam phone calls came from a Yonkers number.
A nationwide campaign was launched Monday, Oct. 16, by the FBI to help raise awareness of virtual kidnapping. According to the FBI, virtual kidnapping takes on many forms, “but it is always an extortion scheme—one that tricks victims into paying a ransom to free a loved one they believe is being threatened with violence or death.” Sometimes they target specific individuals, other times they cold-call hundreds of numbers in affluent areas.
“The scammers attempt to keep victims on the phone so they can’t verify their loved ones’ whereabouts or contact law enforcement,” states the FBI. “The callers are always in a hurry, and the ransom demand is usually a wire payment to Mexico of $2,000 or less, because there are legal restrictions for wiring larger amounts across the border.”
If someone is demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, the FBI says that hanging up the phone is usually the best course of action. If you choose to engage the caller, avoid sharing specific information about the loved one; request to speak to the alleged victim; ask questions only the alleged victim would know, such as the name of a pet; attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text or social media; and never agree to pay a ransom.
If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe you are the victim of a scheme, contact the nearest FBI office or local law enforcement immediately.
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