Volume 16, Number 2
That question began 30 minutes of terror for a young woman from Wake County recently. The following is an account of that afternoon which was experienced by friends of the editor and her husband. The names have been changed to protect their privacy.
The friends have two daughters, both UNC-CH graduates who are now living in western states. The older answered her phone last week with her usual “Hi, this is Amy.” A man whose voice she didn’t recognize said, “Hi, Amy. What’s your father’s name? We need to know we have the right Amy.”
She gave her father’s name and then the man told her that her father had been at fault in an auto accident that killed a young child, the son of a local gang member. Now that gang had kidnapped her father and was holding him for ransom in retaliation. The man began demanding Amy immediately pay them $300,000.
By this time she was sobbing and thunderstruck, only able to tell him she did not have that kind of money. She is a skier who is working at a ski resort for little money but a lot of experience.
The man continued to threaten, Amy continued to plead and say she did not have the money though the man began to reduce the amount: $100,000, $75,000, $25,000. The torture of the phone call went on for 10 minutes, 15, then 20.
Amy vividly remembered the Wake Forest man who was kidnapped in place of his attorney daughter by gang members in retaliation for a long prison sentence for the gang’s leader. That father was saved from execution just in time because of very fast, efficient work by the Wake Forest Police Department and law enforcement offices – local, state and federal – all over the southeast.
Finally the man grew tired and said that he could hear she could not give them what they wanted. Amy heard the man turn away from the phone and say to someone, “Kill him” before hanging up.
Hysterical with fear, she dialed her father’s phone, terrified it would not be answered. When he did answer because he was in his home office, it was 10 minutes before he could talk her into enough calm to tell him what had just happened. They are both fine now but left with the dark shadow of fear because someone would try such a cruel hoax to extort money.
The friends and their friends say this has happened recently to a family in southern Wake County and they have heard that across the nation it has a variant in which the supposed kidnapped person is on an airplane, out of reach for hours, while the victims believe he or she is dead.
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The Wake Forest Police Department issued the following statements after a request to help becoming a victim of the kind of scam reported above or the several other schemes that are circulating to rob people. The department had issued the statement in November.
Seniors urged to guard against fraud
The Wake Forest Police Department is urging area seniors to guard against becoming the victim of fraud following a number of recently reported phone scams targeting older adults.
In these incidents, potential victims receive phone calls from scammers alleging they have kidnapped a relative, or a family member has been assaulted or injured. The scammers then demand the victim send a ransom or payment immediately via wire transfer or pre-paid gift card. They sometimes threaten violence or even death to the alleged kidnapping victim unless the ransom is paid.
The scammers fabricate such tales hoping the potential victims will pay the demanded money without verifying whether the story is real.
The callers who commit this kind of fraud often share the following characteristics:
- Instruct the victim to stay on the phone while they verify the payment transfer has occurred and not to contact anyone.
- Use generic terms when referring to the alleged kidnapping victim, such as brother, sister or child.
- Sound believable by utilizing the internet, primarily social media sites, to obtain and cite information about where potential victims live and work, along with the names of family members and associates.
- Utilize cell phones with the numbers blocked or in conjunction with software that allows the scammers to show fraudulent phone numbers on Caller ID.
Police encourage citizens to consider the following:
Limit access to your social media pages and limit the personal information you share
- Never post your Social Security number or account numbers online, and only share your contact information with your friends and contacts.
- If you receive a call you believe may be a scam, never wire money or pay by prepaid card. Instead, hang up the phone and call the person about whom the threats have been made to ensure that they are safe. If you are unable to reach him or her, contact the police immediately.
Citizens are also encouraged to report such attempts to the Federal Trade Commission via the linkhttps://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1.
If you believe that you are a victim of this type of crime, report it to the Wake Forest Police Department at 919-554-6150.
In addition, the N.C. Attorney General’s Office sent out the following earlier this year:
Con artists will try to take advantage of the fact that grandparents will do anything to help their grandchildren. These frauds are also called family emergency scams or travel scams.
The grandparent scam usually begins with a call from a person who claims to be a grandchild in trouble who needs money right away. The grandparent often responds with his or her grandchild’s name, giving the scammer the information needed to sound authentic and complete the con. In other cases, the criminal already knows the grandchild’s name through social media or other websites. The victim is asked to send thousands of dollars by wiring money or loading funds onto gift cards from the Apple Store or other businesses. Victims rarely know they’ve been scammed before the funds are lost.
To avoid grandparent scams:
- Don’t answer calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize or emails from addresses that aren’t familiar to you.
- Beware of anyone who asks you to send money immediately, no matter the reason.
- Don’t share information about you or your family with anyone you don’t know who calls, emails, or contacts you through other means.
- If you get a call or a message asking for help, hang up or log off and contact the person directly at a number you know is theirs to make sure the request is legitimate.
- If someone claims to be a loved one, ask the person questions that only your real family member would be able to answer.
- Share carefully on social media. Make sure your privacy settings prevent strangers from accessing information about you or your family.
- Never wire or send money in response to a phone call, email or online message. Once the money has been received by a fraudster, it’s almost impossible to get it back.
For more information on grandparent scams:
We can help
Many victims of elder fraud are hesitant to come forward, but our Consumer Protection Division is here to help. If you or a loved one has fallen victim to a grandparent scam, report it to our office online at ncdoj.gov or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.