It’s perhaps one of the most terrifying scams to be caught up in, and while reports of this scam are thankfully relatively rare, there has been a spate of incidents this year across the US.
Jeff Weber was driving his vehicle in Ogden, Utah when his mobile phone began to ring. An unknown number was trying to contact him, and Weber opted not to answer. Until it began to ring again.
Upon answering the phone, Weber was met with a response that would render any parent frozen with shock. A young girl screams down the phone “Daddy, Daddy. I’m scared.” Then a man interrupts and tells Jeff that if he ever wanted to see his daughter ever again, he’d stay on the phone and do whatever the man says.
But the supposed kidnapping isn’t real. It’s a scam designed to panic victims into handing over money over the phone, and the screaming girl at the start of the conversation wasn’t Jeff’s daughter. While Jeff Weber attempted to ask the unknown man over the phone about his daughter, the man refused to answer and simply reiterated his threats, telling Jeff that he’d have to “arrange his daughters funeral” if he didn’t comply.
Luckily, Jeff had managed to alert co-workers and together with his wife they managed to stealthily ascertain that Jeff’s daughter was indeed safe as school, and Jeff was confident enough to hang up the phone.
This bone-chilling scam has been reported in both Utah and Kansas recently, and it’s been dubbed “virtual kidnapping”. The criminal attempts to convince a parent that they have kidnapped their child and to pay a ransom before the parent has a chance to realise it’s all a scam.
To make this scheme even more terrifying is that they are targeted. The crooks know the names of their victims and possibly even the name of their children. In today’s world, this information can be gleaned from a number of different locations, including social media.
So that’s another reason to make sure your social media privacy settings are strict, and ensure that the “Who can look me up with the phone number I provided” option in your privacy Facebook settings is set to ‘friends’ to prevent crooks from pairing your name with your phone number.