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FBI warns public of ‘Virtual Kidnapping’ scammers

This new phone scam uses a text from your bank to fool you
Posted at 9:50 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 00:07:45-05

PHOENIX — *Disclaimer: This story mentions violence that may not be suitable for every reader.*

“The guy told me, ‘I have your daughter against her will, if you call the police and you don’t do exactly what I tell you, I’m going to cut her head off,’” said Rosa Elena Amavisca- Rodarte, a Tempe resident.

Amavisca-Rodarte says she received the frightening call about two weeks ago. It came from a number with an area code from Mexico, but she picked up immediately thinking it could be a relative.

“In the background there’s this girl yelling like she was being tortured saying ‘mom please, it hurts, please don’t allow this.’ I said, ‘please don’t hurt my daughter.’”

A threat to behead her daughter if she didn’t follow the caller’s instructions wasn’t the type of call Amavisca-Rodarte expected that morning.

“You think it’s your daughter. I was so afraid that I really thought it was her. I thought about calling my daughter, but then I thought he could hear her phone if I called and put her in more danger,” expressed Amavisca-Rodarte.

The FBI says Amavisca-Rodarte's case is possibly part of the ‘Virtual Kidnaping’ crime trend.

What’s ‘Virtual Kidnapping’?

The FBI says they have been following ‘Virtual Kidnapping’ scams for almost 20 years. It’s a type of scam where a stranger calls someone’s phone (usually randomly) and then tells them they have kidnapped a loved one demanding a ransom via wire or in person to free them.

In the case of Amavisca-Rodarte, the call took a concerning twist.

“It was so cruel, I cannot imagine someone doing that to a mother. Only a sociopath can threaten to behead someone’s daughter,” stated Amavisca-Rodarte.

The FBI wants the community to be alert.

“We can typically get a sense of when the scams are back in effect, we have operators operating from overseas because we would start getting more reports. And over the few weeks that has in fact happened,” stated Michael Caputo, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Virtual Kidnapping Scams in Arizona.

Caputo says, their goal is to get the information out more, to inform the public that these types of scams exist and that it can target anyone. He says the FBI just received a new report on these scams this weekend.

“When you’re in a situation like that, you just want your child to be okay. I would have done anything he would have told me to do. I was under so much stress that I truly believed the woman screaming for help was my daughter,” said Amavisca-Rodarte.

According to the FBI, impersonating a loved one it’s a common trick.

So, what can you do if you receive these calls?

“If you request to speak to your loved one there’s no way they will be able to accommodate that request. Never even give the fact that you even have a daughter.

In some cases, these scams have been shut down immediately by saying, ‘I don’t even have a daughter, what are you talking about?’” explained Caputo.

But sometimes people panic, just like Amavisca-Rodarte, who says she was ready to follow their instructions to get in her car, grab her purse and credit cards. She was about to start driving when she heard from her daughter who was safe at home.

“She ‘facetime’ me and I still couldn’t believe it was her. It was horrific, he played so much with my mind. I could imagine her being tortured and hurt.”

The experience is usually traumatic for the victims, even after confirming that there was no kidnapping, says Caputo.

The FBI recommends the following:

■ In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.

■ If you do engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.

■ Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”

■ Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.

■ Listen carefully to the voice of the alleged victim if they speak.

■ Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell 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 agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous.