Police issue warning about 'virtual kidnapping' phone scam

Police issue warning about kidnapping scam. (ABC7 photo)

Fairfax County Police are investigating three new cases of a frightening phone scam they call "virtual kidnapping".

"It utilizes fear as a catalyst," said Officer Tawny Wright, a police spokesperson. "Every parent worries about their children's safety and well-being."

Investigators say typically, the scam begins with a phone call.

A person calls a parent at home during school hours, says their child has been kidnapped and demands a ransom.

"They call us because they like money, or they like to get money from us," said Nancy Jacobo, A Springfield grandmother. "Would that scare you?" she was asked. "Of course."

Police say they've received reports about the calls on May 4, May 13, and May 17.

In one case the child who was "kidnapped" was a 17-year-old girl attending classes at West Springfield High School.

Another targeted parent was a 33-year-old father whose 10-year-old daughter goes to school at Springfield Estate Elementary.

Police say there is a bizarre twist: that the caller uses a child's voice as a prop.

"Parent gets a phone call. They hear a child's voice either crying or stating that they've been kidnapped," Wright said. "Next thing you know, some man's voice comes on the phone says 'I have your child', you know, basically demands a ransom, in return for the child's safety."

Authorities say in the May 4 incident, the 17-year-old's mother acted quickly.

She took a second phone, put it on speaker, and called 911, repeating her address out loud, over and over while talking to the "kidnapper".

Police got the address and responded to her house. Meanwhile, a school resource officer, contacted by police, confirmed the girl was okay, and never in danger.

At some point, the call suddenly disconnected.

"That's crazy," said Star Meban, a West Springfield High student.

"I think it's so extreme to be lying about their child, and some person could actually try to find them, actually give them the money, and then the kid comes home saying 'hey mom, I'm home'."

Police say all three cases were in the Springfield area.

No money was ever exchanged, and no children were ever in danger, Investigators say.

"They try to keep the victim on the phone, and give them instructions, to keep them distracted and frazzled and not thinking," Wright says.

Police say the scammers are hard to track down.

A call history might not make any difference, investigators say because the numbers could be fake or even from out of the country.

Authorities say if you get one of these calls, the best thing to do is to try to contact your child's school, or the place he or she is supposed to be, to confirm they are safe-- and--- try to remain calm.

"They try to prey on your emotions," Wright said. "They try to keep you off balance. They want to get your money."

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