From sex trafficking scams in grocery stores to stranger danger at a local Wendy’s, it seems no place is a safe space for our kids anymore. Through the ever-growing uses of technology, it’s becoming more and more “normal” for even our own homes to be a target.
But rather than falling prey to the crafty tactics of today’s scam artists, one brave mother decided to take matters into her own hands by outwitting a stranger at his own game.
Leslie Waters of Auburn was at her home one morning last week when she received an alarming call from a stranger. The connection was muffled, but she could vividly hear the voice of a girl screaming and crying for her mom to help in the background.
Something seemed fishy to Leslie, as she knew her daughter was safe at daycare.
“At first I thought it was a wrong number. But my chest was tight. I was afraid, and I thought maybe something had happened to my daughter. But the number threw me off. It wasn’t my daughter’s school. She certainly wouldn’t be the one calling me. I didn’t know what to do.”
That’s when a man with a foreign accent drowned out the sound of the crying girl. He started not by telling Leslie an amount of money he wanted, but rather asking her how much money she would be able to withdraw from her bank.
She was confident it was still a “wrong number,” having knowledge of the tight security at her daughter’s school, but the high-pressure situation still left her concerned.
“Still, when you hear someone say ‘kidnap your daughter,’ and that he’d kill her unless you follow instructions, you don’t always [use] common sense.”
The man on the other end of the phone then proceeded to list off his “ransom demands,” and the steps Leslie was expected to take in order to “save her daughter’s life.”
He ordered her to put the phone on speaker-mode, then grab her cell phone charger and drive to the bank. Once there, she would need to refer to him as “son,” and he would call her “mom,” to prevent anyone from becoming suspicious.
Of course by now we’re all thinking what Leslie had been thinking the whole time: This has GOT to be a scam. But I’m telling you from experience, even when you know it’s false, there’s a piece of your mind and heart that goes into full panic-mode.
Scammers take full advantage of knowing that you’re going to act on your fearful instinct—especially as a parent. Not to mention, Leslie was at home alone, with no idea how this caller got her information, where he might be calling from and what he could have access to. The thought is completely agonizing.
Leslie found a way to keep the man on the line, and buy herself some time as she made up lies to stall the caller, saying she had just woken up, she’d need to get dressed, find her missing car keys and get withdrawal slips.
In the meantime she used the landline to call her husband at work.
When he answered, Leslie held her cell phone up to the handset, then spoke straight to the “purported kidnapper” so her husband would be clued in.
“I repeated, ‘I don’t believe you have my daughter. I want proof. I want to hear my daughter’s voice,’” she explained. “That’s what helped my husband figure out what was going on.”
Upon hearing her words, Leslie’s husband jumped into action. He whispered that he would call the school, and within minutes was able to confirm that their daughter was safe. He then called the police.
Leslie kept the caller, who claimed to be watching her, on the phone until police arrived at her home. After spewing an embarrassing amount of curse words at the officer and Leslie, the spammer hung up.
To her surprise, police told Leslie there was nothing they could do about the phone call, or the fact that this person was claiming to have kidnapped a child. Of course, had Leslie’s daughter actually been kidnapped, they said “they’d move heaven and earth to trace the call.”
At the end of the 20-minute fiasco, Leslie reflected on what she could do to better protect herself and her family from perpetrators—both real and fake.
“I feel like I haven’t been taking care of her well enough online,” she said, explaining that it’s not uncommon for her to post photos and videos of her young daughter on social media because they have family who do not live close by. When asked why she believed she was chosen as a target, the mother mentioned her frequent Facebook posts.
Her concerns are valid, and as parents, we need to be intentional about what we share online. But this could have happened to any of us, and it has happened to many of us. I was once told I had missed Jury Duty and would need to pay a massive fine or turn myself in and do jail-time. The scams are new every day, and we are all targets.
The good news is, according to the FBI, there are a number of ways to protect yourself from falling victim to one of these stressful scams.
Indicators of a scam, and how to handle one
Suspect a scam if:
• Incoming demand calls come from an outside area code, sometimes from Puerto Rico with area codes (787), (939) and (856).
• Calls do not come from the purported kidnapped victim’s phone.
• Callers go to great lengths to keep targets on the phone.
• Callers prevent targets from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim.
• Caller will only accept ransom money through a wire transfer service.
Anyone receiving a phone call seeking ransom for a supposed kidnapped victim should:
• Try to slow the situation down. Ask to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is OK?”
• If the caller won’t let you speak to the “victim,” ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
• Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnap “victim” if they speak.
• Try to call, text or contact the “victim” by social media. Ask the “victim” to call back from his or her cell phone.
• While staying on the line with supposed kidnappers, try to call the “victim” from another phone.
• To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
• Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
Source: FBI website
Leslie’s experience with the scammer is just another example of the many ways we can become victims of our own technology. Be smart, be prepared and be alert, because their next phone call could easily come to you.