The Denver couple who fielded phone calls from a man who told them he had kidnapped their daughter was terrified.
That emotional reaction — terror — is just what kidnapping scam artists are attempting to bank on, said Sgt. Steve Kimberly of the Denver Police Department.
The scam this week, along with two other attempts, were foiled, but police on Friday held a news conference to warn the public about the ongoing fraud, as well as to suggest ways to avoid being victimized.
“Virtual kidnapping telephone scams are very common,” Kimberly said.
This past week, a Denver man received a phone call, while he was at work, from a man who said he’d kidnapped the victim’s daughter. The call, and caller, sounded convincingly real.
Part of the ploy involves speed, and isolating the mark who answers the phone. The call also involves a voice in the background, in this case, a woman’s voice, begging for help. The caller doesn’t let the mark talk directly to the supposedly distressed family member. The caller also makes the mark stay on the phone, instructing the victim to get money and wire it an account, typically out of the country, or the family member will be harmed or killed.
The victim in the recent Denver case followed instructions and wired an undisclosed sum of money, but, the wire transfer didn’t go through. The scam artist also then got hold of the victim’s wife, Laurie, instructing her to do the same — wire money now or your daughter will be hurt or killed.
“You will never see your daughter again,” the kidnapper told the couple.
“We were both terrified,” Laurie said Friday of her, and her husband’s, reaction to the incident. The anonymous couple recounted the events at Friday’s news conference via telephone conference call.
When Laurie rushed to her bank to get money to wire, she left a note with a bank manger explaining the seemingly dire situation. The bank manager notified Denver police and two officers were immediately dispatched to the unfolding situation.
Officer Briana Monson and Cpl. Christopher Foegen caught up with Laurie, who was still on the phone, and were able to determine that she was being scammed. The ransom wire did not go through.
“We feel silly, gullible,” Laurie said Friday.
The scam artists are seasoned and convincing, police warn.
“They are professional grifters, they do this for a living and they are good at it,” Kimberly said.
People who receive such calls should remain calm and not be hooked by fear that scam artists are pitching. Victims should hang up on the caller and immediately call or text the person who is supposedly the kidnapped victim. Also, notify police of the situation right away.
“Never agree to meet anyone anywhere,” Kimberly said. “It’s very unsafe to do that.”
The calls made to the Denver couple this week were from unidentified phone numbers. The calls were, however, traced to Mexico. Some scams involve perpetrators who do social media backgrounds in order to use specific names of victims.
“It was two hours of basically — Hell,” Laurie recalled. “It was a really awful experience.”
The vast majority of ransom calls will end up being scams. Still, some people do wind up being victimized.
Police hope public awareness will help combat the problem. Meanwhile, Laurie and her husband are breathing a collective sigh of relief after nearly becoming prey.