Man scared for wife’s safety empties bank account in virtual-kidnapping phone scam

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An Anchorage, Alaska, man was one of the latest victims of a stream of phone scams on the rise. The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, was contacted last week while at work. He received a telephone call that looked like it was coming from his wife’s telephone number and was led to believe the callers had his wife in custody and were going to rape and kill her if he didn’t comply with their demands, KTVA news reports.

Then, after hearing a woman he believed was his wife screaming, he followed an elaborate set of directions and aggressive demands. The man ended up withdrawing funds from his bank, giving up his credit card information, and purchasing numerous Visa gift cards, relinquishing those numbers as well while on the phone with the criminals.

Even though the man was reportedly alerting numerous people of his plight via written notes, including his co-workers, bank employees, and the police, he and his wife, nevertheless, ended up losing all their savings to the crooks. “I withdrew the money myself,” the man told KTVA news. “I basically robbed myself … I had situation that I believed was absolutely real.”

While he was on the phone with the scammers, officers told the husband that they had reached his wife and that she was safe.

“Finally I was really beginning to lose patience, so I said started asking them: ‘I want to speak to my wife, I want to speak to my wife — I’m not doing anything else until I speak to my wife.’ And at that point, they hung up, and the ordeal was over,” the man told KTVA.

Although sounding like the plot of a fascinating crime podcast or an AMC television series, this type of faked kidnapping scam has become very common across the country. According to the FBI, these sorts of extortion schemes have been happening for nearly two decades. But until the last couple of years, they were mostly isolated to the Southwestern states and typically plagued Spanish-speaking families. Just in the last year, reports from places like Connecticut, three different cases in Fairfax County, Va., a two-year trend in New York City, and this recent incident in Alaska all hint that the crime wave is now coast to coast.

Despite so many advances in mobile technology over the last decade, the scammers are so far elusive to law enforcement. Reports of these incidents far outnumber those of arrests, yet there has been a small number of alleged perpetrators caught in recent months. In July 2017, a woman in Texas was arrested for taking part in a kidnapping scam spree that involved families in Texas, California, and Idaho.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies point out that the success of these virtual kidnapping schemes depends on speed and the victims’ fear. They recommend trying to slow down the process, asking questions of the callers to gain as much information as you can, and either getting them to call you back or asking them to call you back — all of which can potentially buy you time to alert the authorities and confirm the whereabouts and status of your loved ones. The best course of action, says the FBI, is to  hang up the phone.

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