My phone rang on Sunday afternoon while I was doing laundry from a Mexico phone number. I am originally from Calexico, CA, a small border town by Mexico — I thought it was my niece who recently moved to Mexicali. I answered my phone and I heard her crying. She was saying something that I couldn’t make out. I told her to slow down and tell me whats going on. She said:
“Nene I have a gun to my head, Nene I have a gun to my head!”
Only two people call me by my middle name, Dene. My aunt and my niece. My niece is the only person who calls me Nene. I asked her what happen, where was she. Then a man got on the line telling me that he has my niece because she was recording a video and recorded him “doing a business deal.” He demanded money to be wired to him and if I didn’t he would kill her. He told me that if I tried contacting anyone, that he would kill her.
I talked to him and his associate while they yelled and threaten to hurt my niece. I was scared for my niece’s life and I didn’t want anything to happen to her. The whole time I talked to these two men about how to get them money, when it was a Sunday and the banks were closed. I finally was able to muster up the courage to contact my partner, who was out of town, for help. He called my niece and my aunt and they didn’t pick up. He called other family members and no one knew where they were.
Finally after 4 hours on the phone with these men and wiring money, my sister got confirmation that my niece was safe and that they were traveling in Mexico and didn’t have cell reception. My sister told my partner who was able to text it to me. At that moment I demanded to talk to my niece and the guy hung up. I cried the most painful cry I have ever had. My body was shaking, I wailed — it was horrible. I threw up several times. I felt so powerless, helpless and paralyzed.
I share this because most likely these particular people may not get caught, but I can shared my story to let others know that this happen. I have heard of virtual kidnaps before and I thought that I would never fall of one. But since it started out with a young women crying who called me by my nickname that only my niece calls me — I fell for it. It happened.
To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:
- Incoming calls made from an outside area code Multiple successive phone calls
- Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone
- Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone
- Callers prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim
- Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service
If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:
- Stay calm
- Slow the situation down
- Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call
- Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim
- Attempt to call or determine the location of the “kidnapped” victim
- Request to speak to the victim
- Ask questions only the victim would know
- Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone
More information about virtual kidnapping:
- ‘Virtual Kidnapping’ Extortion Calls on the Rise, August 6, 2014
- ‘It sounded like my child’: the ‘virtual kidnappers’ scamming Americans, The Guardian, April 2016
- FBI sounds alarm on “virtual kidnapping” scam, CBS news, September 2015
- Virtual Kidnapping: The Latest Fear-by-Phone Hoax, AARP, January 2016