PHOENIX - It might be the most frightening phone scam out there: the “virtual kidnapping.”
Marion and Paul Weich of Tempe each got a call Thursday, just minutes apart.
A woman they believed to be one of their college-age daughters was weeping. She said there was an accident of some sort.
A man grabbed the phone. His threats escalated. He wanted money from the Weichs or else he would kill their daughter.
“It could be real. You don't know what to do,” Paul Weich said in an interview.
“You can't just laugh at the guy and say, ‘You're a bad scammer, I'm hanging up on you now,’ because what if it was real?”
“I really, truly believed my daughter was going to be killed,” Marion Weich said. “I was so shaken that I couldn't drive.”
"He kept on saying, 'I'm going to take a finger off—I'm just going to cut it right now.'"
Paul got the call at work. The scammers dialed up Marion while she was driving, after their call with Paul ended.
The Weichs shared a recording of one of the calls with 12 News. They say no parent should be terrorized by these scammers.
During the chilling 15-minute call, Paul calmly strings along an increasingly desperate ransom seeker. Meanwhile, a co-worker called 911 and then dialed the Weichs’ daughter. She was at home.
“That's 15 minutes of terror thinking that it might be real,” Weich said.
After his call ended, Paul didn’t know his wife was on the line with the same scammers.
Marion had stopped at a Fry’s grocery store because she was afraid to keep driving. A staffer called 911, but Marion says she was so frightened that she didn't believe police when they told her it was all a scam."
"I was not very kind to the police and basically said, 'Shut the ----'"
Virtual kidnapping, also known as the “ransom scam,” has been around for a few years. The calls are believed to be coming out of Mexico. In the latest twist, law enforcement officials warn that scammers are trying to lure victims to Mexico to pay the ransom.
Tempe Detective Greg Bacon, a police spokesman, said the scammers are doing their homework on potential targets, likely on social media. Families with daughters are common targets, he said.
If you get one of these ransom scam calls, here's what law enforcement officials advise:
- Stay calm and slow down the situation.
- Contact law enforcement immediately.
- Try to call the alleged victim or have someone go to their home.
- Don't share any personal or family information, such as names.