5 On Your Side

Virtual kidnapping scam targets 2 Triangle families

Posted November 13, 2017 6:02 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 11:17 a.m. EDT

— WRAL News has heard recently from two victims of what the FBI calls a virtual kidnapping scam, which is very similar to the Grandparent Scam that has generated headlines in the past.

In both incidents, scammers make hundreds of calls and sometimes even send text messages in order to connect with someone who doesn't know where their children or grandchildren are. Law enforcement authorities say in many instances the scam works.

"For somebody to say they're holding a gun to your child's head and they've been in a car accident is beyond cruel," said Rebecca Parker, who was targeted by scammers. "There's no words for that."

In some instances, a grandparent will receive a call from a grandchild in immediate need of bail money.

"He told me about getting in a wreck, and being charged with drunk driving," said grandmother Vivien Serff. "I was almost in tears at that point."

Both frightening scenarios-- used by scammers to trick victims into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars.

"They play on your emotions, and make it sound as bad as they can so that you don't really stop and think about what's going on," said Serff, who lives in Efland.

It happened to Serff and to the Parker family of Raleigh. The scammers keep victims on the phone-- to keep them from verifying their family member is ok.

"The whole time I was on the phone with him, he told me not to call anyone (and) not to hang up and to just stay on the phone with him," Parker said.

According to the North Carolina Attorney General's office, its investigators have received hundreds of complaints about theses types of scams. And officials say nearly 35 people lost an average of $5,600 each when they electronically transferred money or buying and then sharing codes for pre-paid debit cards.

The scammers demanded $5,100 from the Parkers, who wired $500 to a location in Puerto Rico before they could verify their son was safe. Serff said she realized it was a scam before she sent any money. Both victims said they wanted to share their stories to prevent others from being scammed.

"They're the scum of the Earth," Serff said of those who perpetuate this scam.

Investigators say the cases are difficult for law enforcement to bust because the scammers and the places they have money wired to are typically in foreign countries.

FBI investigators say it appears the kidnapping scam is mostly generated from prisoners who are located in Mexico, who then use the ransom money to make their lives behind bars easier,or completely buy their way out of jail.

Western Union recently announced a settlement for some scam victims who wired money to people behind the crime. The company agreed to a $586 million settlement to resolve federal charges. Victims who lost money during that scam can file a claim to get part of their money back.

>>>>>Victims who lost money during that scam can file a claim to get part of their money back.