Scammers Using Parents’ Worst Nightmare Against Them

Imagine picking up the phone and hearing your child scream for help. They tell you they’ve been kidnapped and they don’t know where they are.

The next moment there’s a man on the phone telling you that if you don’t follow instructions, your child dies. If you call for help or let anyone know, your child dies. Panic would set in. I don’t know about you, but in that situation, I’d probably do just about anything the voice on the other end of the line would tell me to do. And that’s just what these scammers are doing.

A scam is rearing its ugly head again. A person cold calls houses till they find a child that’s home alone.

Then they target the child’s parents, saying they have the kid, and they want ransom. Not much, mind you. These aren’t the multi-million dollar ransom requests of the movies. Nope, just a few hundred, maybe a few thousand dollars. You just have to wire the money to the person on the phone to see your child safe again. In the background there’s either someone working with them, providing realistic shrieks, or they use a recording. The whole act is set up to cause panic.

If you panic, they know they can get you to do what they want. You’ll follow directions and you won’t question. That’s what Tracy Holczer did when she fell victim to this scam. She was sure it was her daughter Maddy on the phone.

“She has a very distinct voice. I was immediately terrified. When you’re terrified, your brain just sort of stops working. It didn’t even occur to me it could be a scam.”

I’m not sure how many parents would think it could be a scam. You’re just thinking, “that’s my child and they need me.” Not “it’s just scammers looking for money.”

This is a slightly new twist on an old scam. The original would target Americans vacationing in Mexico. The scammers would find the emergency contacts of the tourists, call up and say their loved ones had been kidnapped.

These scams are pretty effective. Rarely can the calls be traced and there’s almost no hope of recovering funds. Holczer lost about $3,300 through multiple transactions. The problem with Holczer’s case is there’s no leads. The police have no way to track down who did this.

If you happen to be on the receiving end of one of these calls, police suggest you call them immediately. Next, track down whoever was supposedly kidnapped. I know it would be hard to be suspicious in this situation. However, if it happens, try for a moment of clarity. Reach out to get help.

Featured image by Sharon Mollerus, available under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

I'm an IT assistant at a long haul trucking company. I'm nerdy by nature and known to go on feminist rants.