This is the 2nd part in a 2 part series. If you haven’t read the first post yet, STOP! and go to:
and read that first, else this likely won’t make a lot of sense.
“Kidnapped” is a fictional account of a mother who experienced a kidnapping scam involving her daughter. This post seeks to analyze the scam, the outcome, and how people can protect themselves from these and other similar scams.
The first thing that occurred in the story was that the mom received a call from an unknown number. This is not always the case, however, as sometimes the scammers have equipment that can “spoof” numbers, that is, they can show a number to the victim’s caller ID that isn’t the number the criminal is actually calling from. Using such equipment, some kidnapping scam victims have received calls purportedly from the loved one’s number who was supposedly kidnapped. This does, as stated previously, require special equipment, and it also assumes the scammer knows the supposed kidnapping victim’s phone number, so this scenario is less common.
In this case, the call went to voicemail, but sometimes the scammers just keep calling till they get the victim on the line. Scammers like to keep victims on the line whenever possible. This keeps them from investigating the scammers’ claims further or seeking assistance–2 things the scammers definitively don’t want people to do.
The third thing was that the scammer had a person in the background crying and screaming for help. Recently in the state I live in, a lady claimed that AI was used to fake her child’s voice in one of these kidnapping scams. These have been occurring long before AI was in use, however, and many of the victims made similar statements, i.e., that the voice on the other end sounded just like their child. With a voice far in the background and the victim in a state of heightened psychological stress–and believe me, it doesn’t get any higher than this–it’s easy to make a mistake. Whether AI was in fact used in the lady’s particular case, (and we’ll likely never know that for sure), she is making officials and the public alike aware of how dangerous AI can be in terms of making phone scams more realistic, and that’s a good thing. Congratulations to her! It was a terrible ordeal to experience, and I know I speak for everyone when I say I hope she recovers quickly.
The fourth event was that the scammer demanded $100000 by day’s end via Zelle, which is essentially a cash payment application. In that way, it’s similar to apps like Venmo and Cash App, though Zelle has the additional advantage of being offered and therefore approved by many banks. Approved by banks or not, if you send money via Zelle, it’s essentially as though you’d sent cash, and, once sent, it’s basically gone. This is why scammers love to use these apps, as well as gift cards, crypto, and wire transfers. Zelle is easy, though, and the shorter the transaction takes, the more likely it is the scammers can get their money and be gone before they’re caught. These sorts of apps are for sending money to people you know (and hopefully trust) for things like splitting a bill, pitching in for a co-worker’s gift, etc. They’re not for goods and services, and they should never be used for sending money to those you don’t know. Being asked by those you don’t know to use these apps to pay for something is a big red flag that you’re being scammed.
The fifth event–and indeed, the turning point of the story–was when Kathy literally ran into her coworker June. Until this point, Kathy was understandably very upset and emotional. June provided a means of slowing the situation down de-escalating, if only slightly, Kathy’s emotional turmoil. She also provided a perspective which, until this juncture, Kathy hadn’t considered, i.e., that it might all be a scam.
In addition to those perspectives, she gave Kathy an actionable way forward–have her daughter reveal something only the two of them would know. By doing so, the situation was revealed for what it was–a horrifying scam, but not an actual kidnapping.
I need to add one other cautionary note. There are times when people actually do get kidnapped and even at times killed by their captors. Even in these situations, however, proving that the kidnappers actually do have the person in question and that they’re alive is a first step, so June’s suggestions would be applicable in both scenarios.
Always report the situation to the police whether it’s a scam or an actual kidnapping. In addition, you can report scams to
Internet Crime Complaint Center