Almost everyone has heard of the saying “stranger danger,” especially when it pertains to kidnapping. Though the word “kidnapping” may allude to the mental image of a dark-dressed masked individual luring a child in with some candy, virtual kidnapping is a variant of kidnapping.
First of all, what exactly is virtual kidnapping? It is described as: “An extortion scheme wherein people receive phone calls telling them their loved one has been kidnapped and will be killed or harmed if they do not immediately go to the bank and wire money. There may be fake crying in the background, but the kidnapped victims are not allowed to speak, and the call is never made from their phones. Virtual kidnapping spikes when many teenagers are out of town on spring break.”
Now, knowing exactly what virtual kidnapping is, exactly how common is it? With the rise in phone and device usage, this scheme has become more and more frequent. An example of this crime is the Lesley Mumford case; Lesley received a call from her mother where there seemed to be crying in the background and sounds of a woman in distress. Mumford stated how after a while, “…a man came on the phone with a real deep voice and he said, ‘Do you hear that? She needs your help”.
She then noted how the voice quickly became threatening as the stranger urged Mumford to pay him ransom money, threatening to kill her mother if she called the police. “He said, ‘I swear on my baby’s life if you don’t do everything I tell you, I’m going to kill your mom, and then I’m going to kill myself.” I was terrified, and I was just trying to keep her alive so that I could get to her,” Mumford recollected. Unfortunately, compassionate Mumford fell victim to the scheme, transferring $900 to the kidnapper’s account; directly after the kidnapper thanked her, the ‘kidnapper’ hung up with no other words.
Worried for her mother, Mumford immediately called her back to ensure her safety; though, instead of being met with gruesome news, she found her mother was simply at work – safe and sound. Another variable thrown into this kidnapping was the use of “spoofing,” where it seems the kidnapper is calling from the loved one’s actual phone number.
Of course, there are ways to avoid being scammed this way. Experts have deduced a couple of simple ways to determine whether or not the phone call is a scam; the first is to request to speak to your loved one directly- if the request is refused, ask to describe the loved one. Keeping the caller on the phone long enough to call or text the victim’s real number and then reporting the crime to the police is also a decent idea. Mumford hopes her case can help keep other victims of a virtual kidnapping safe and prevent more of these scheming crimes.
In summary, although this scheme has been scarily effective in recent years, there is always a way to stay safe and sound. Although many are difficult to arrest as most are actually already in jail, through modern technology, the criminals are being tracked down and charged for their crimes. Humanity can hopefully live calmly without virtual kidnappers haunting them.