Vance: Beware of cruel new scam involving kidnapping of family members
Editor's Note: Even as late as Monday, Aug. 14, Washington County Sheriff's deputies were receiving calls involving a man scamming county residents by saying he's kidnapped family members, demanding a monetary ransom in exchange for their safety.
I hate phone scams.
Like many (if not most) of you, I have been bombarded over recent years — both at home and on my cellphone — with a huge variety of attempted scams.
Here's just a sampling of some of my "favorites."
"Hi. This is Windows Technical Support. Your Windows computer is infected with viruses and ..."
"Hi. I'm calling because you stayed at one of our resorts in the past, and qualify for 75 percent savings on ..."
"Hi. I'm calling about your credit card account. There's no problem with your account but ..."
There's more, of course, but to date, these have all just been attempts to get at my bank account, credit cards or Social Security number. I use the word "attempts" because I — like most of you, I'm sure — routinely hang up on, ridicule or report the scammers when they call.
Today, however, I'd like to warn you all about a new and particularly cruel scam that recently impacted my family.
As I was finishing up a second week of vacation on Aug. 2, my wife and I left home for a brief shopping trip. My son, 18, stayed at home while we were gone, but my daughter — she's 20 but has some developmental delays — was planning to leave our house for an afternoon with her boyfriend.
Some 45 minutes later, as my wife and I walked the aisles at Bi-Mart, I received a call on my cellphone. That in itself was not unusual — my cell phone is my primary work phone and I share that number freely. Everything I heard over the next 13 minutes and 31 seconds, however, was both unusual and horrifying.
When I answered the phone, I heard a female voice — mostly unintelligible — yelling, crying and trying to speak to me. I thought it was my daughter and feared she might have been in an accident though her words were unclear.
Then, a male voice came on the line who told me that he had kidnapped my daughter and would kill her if I didn't do what he said.
Over the next several minutes, the man told me the following:
• That I shouldn't tell my wife, or anyone else, what was happening;
• That I should leave my wife at the store (the man instructed me to tell her I had to go help my friend "John" who had been in an accident);
• That I was to meet him at my bank to give him all the money I had;
• That I wouldn't be allowed to speak with my daughter again until I had given him the money; and
• That if I contacted the police, he would kill my daughter.
As I left Bi-Mart and drove to the bank, my wife — who had been next to me when the call came in and deduced what was happening — called the sheriff's department, told them about the incident and where I was going to meet the purported kidnapper.
She also tried to call my daughter's cell phone — getting no answer — then called my daughter's boyfriend, who did answer his phone and informed her that my daughter was with him, was safe and had been with him throughout the preceding hour.
While I continued my drive to the bank — texting my wife from a stoplight that the "kidnapper" had directed me to a different bank location — she responded with the best news of the day: Our daughter was "safe this is a scam!!!! Scam!!!!!"
My response to the scammer was loud, aggressive and profane, but more important was our later response to the sheriff's office, sharing details of the attempted scam as well as the cellphone number of the "kidnapper."
While we have no follow-up details from the authorities — we have no idea if the perpetrator will ever be caught — I can share that we are not the first victims of this scam. Indeed, the sheriff's office told my wife that many local people had been taken in by this scam and that those people had handed over untold thousands of dollars.
The victims were both parents and even more often grandparents (because, the sheriff's office said, grandparents were less likely to be able to easily contact their grandchildren), but the kidnapping "victims" could be either male or female and almost any age. How the scammers choose their victims, we don't know.
Knowing this, however, you won't be one of those victims and can help put an end to this particularly cruel and hurtful scam.