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'Terrifying, realistic' kidnapping scam uses fake recording of frightened child to extort parents

Cell phone tips: Text instead of call during hurricanes to ease network congestion
Posted at 7:08 PM, Dec 17, 2019

Two Boone County parents picked up their phones this week to a panicking child’s voice on the other end. “They have me,” it said. “I’m in a white van.”

Both parents believed, at first, it was their own child.

It wasn’t.

It was a new, “terrifying and very realistic” breed of scam call, according to Boone County deputies. After the child’s initial cry for help, an adult’s voice came on the line and demanded a ransom for their safe return.

Both parents who received it — a father on Monday, a mother on Tuesday — were so frightened they called police and schools to make sure their children were OK. They were, and neither parent gave any money to the fake kidnapper.

Another father in the Tri-State area almost did. Jim Kidd, an Erlanger home inspector, received the same call during a client meeting in late November and panicked. When the adult on the other end demanded he wire $1,000, he was prepared to do it.

"They said, 'We want you to know we have your daughter, and do not hang up, because if you hang up we will kill her,'" he said.

He thought fast: While he went to get the money, he signalled his client to call police and have them follow him to the bank. The officer who arrived knew about the scam already and indicated Kidd should try calling his daughter before spending any money.

He did. She was fine.

Boone County deputies want anyone else who receives a similar call to do the same, they wrote in a Tuesday news release.

“Please remember that if you or a loved one receives this type of call it’s important to remain calm and immediately begin taking the steps to verify the whereabouts of your child,” a spokesman wrote in the release. "It is also recommended for everyone to check their social media privacy settings and to verify what information can be viewed by the public on these accounts. This information could be used against you to make the scam seem more realistic.”