The con artists are at it again. But this time, it’s not college students who are the target, it’s their parents. This scam, a “virtual kidnapping” scam, has been around for a couple of years, with the FBI issuing warnings in January 2015, but authorities are warning parents that it seems to be on the rise again in the past few months. Several colleges in several states, including Arizona State University, George Mason University and the University of Texas at Arlington, have issued warnings to parents.
As with so many scams, knowledge is power. Being aware that this scam exists is the best first defense against becoming a victim.
In the “virtual kidnapping” scam, parents receive a phone call from a stranger who claims to have kidnapped their child. Sometimes parents hear muffled screams or cries in the background. Someone who sounds much like their child may even get on the phone quickly, crying and begging them to pay whatever is asked. Calls come from outside area codes, often 787 or 939 – Puerto Rican codes. The call may come from a blocked or private number. The caller knows the child’s name and often many details as well. These details are often gleaned from public information and/or social media sites.
So, as a parent, you’re given a lot of information intended to convince you that the “kidnapper” has your child. Then, you are asked to wire money to “save” your child. The amount may vary, but according to the FBI New York Field Office, is often between $600 and $1900, possibly because this is a limit of what can be wired quickly.
Of course, there is no way of knowing whether the call is genuine, but usually your child is safely in class, studying, in her dorm, or going about her daily activities. She has no way of knowing this is happening. Obviously, this type of call is especially frightening if your child happens to be out of the country – perhaps studying abroad or on spring break.
Authorities suggest that parents do several things if they receive this type of call:
- Try to slow down the conversation. Tell the caller that you need time.
- Ask to speak with your child.
- If someone gets on the phone, listen very carefully to the voice.
- If they put someone on the phone, ask for a piece of information that only your child would know.
- Ask them to have your child call with his or her own phone so that you recognize the number.
- Use text or social media to try to contact your child. More than one parent who received a call was able to contact her child via social media to determine that she was safe.
- If you find out that your child is safe, hang up.
- Report the call to the police.
Scams such as this play on every parent’s nightmare. We fear for the safety of our children. Being aware that these scams exist may help parents remain calm as they check on their child. Do be smart. Do be cautious. Don’t allow yourself to become a victim.