Virtual Kidnapping Scams on the Rise

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Few things are as terrifying as the thought of a loved one, especially a child, being kidnapped. So when the phone rings and someone says they have your daughter and will kill her immediately if you hang up or fail to wire $10,000, most parents will do whatever is possible to save their child.

That's exactly the kind of compliance scam artists are counting on when they call unsuspecting parents and relatives, a practice that's been on the rise in recent years.

Vulnerable Targets

Even a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant was caught up in a virtual kidnapping scam. He told the Los Angeles Times that a woman screamed, "Daddy, help me" into his phone in 2015, and even though didn't recognize the voice, he didn't hang up either. "All that training kind of goes out the window when it's personal to you," he said. "They specifically threatened to put a bullet in the back of my child's head."

A male voice got on the line and threatened to kill the sergeant's daughter if he didn't pay a ransom. Lucky for him, he was able to flag down some Torrance police officers who contacted his daughter's school to confirm she was safe before he wired any money. Other virtual kidnapping victims haven't been so lucky -- West L.A. resident Valerie Sobel wired scam artists $4,000 and a Virginia woman spent five horrifying hours wiring a total of $10,000 in small transfers to Mexico before being able to contact her daughter.

Don't Hang Up

A key component of the virtual kidnapping scam is a victim's inability to confirm whether a loved one is safe. Scammers target cell phones and tell victims not to hang up or the loved one will be killed. As hard as it may be however, LAPD Captain William Hayes recommends not following the caller's orders. "If you get a phone call like this," Hayes said, "immediately hang up. Contact that loved one."

And then contact police.

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