MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Memphis police are investigating two separate but similar cases in which women claim they were called and told their mothers had been kidnapped before a ransom was demanded.
Police took both reports Saturday.
In one case, a man and woman say they answered the woman’s phone when they saw her mother was calling. Instead, they heard a bunch of strange sounds.
“It sounded like someone was tied up or gagged,” said the victim’s boyfriend.
Finally, a man started speaking.
“I don’t know exactly what he said but something along the lines of, ‘I’ve got your family and you have to send me money right now.’”
The caller demanded $1,000 be sent via Paypal. He then demanded another $500 claiming he hadn’t received the first payment.
The victim’s boyfriend sent the money only to learn later his girlfriend’s mother was never in harm’s way.
“Within probably five minutes of getting off the phone, we actually received a phone call back from her parents,” he said.
That same day, another woman told police that she got a similar call from a number that appeared to be her mother’s.
The caller claimed her mother had been kidnapped and demanded a $1,000 ransom before upping the amount to $1,300.
The victim paid up but then found out her mother had been at a concert all night and had never been kidnapped.
The FBI refers to these scams as virtual kidnappings. They’ve been warning about them for years.
Should you receive one of these calls, the FBI recommends asking to hear directly from the alleged hostage and asking him or her questions that only they would know. They also advise against paying the ransom.
The first victim’s boyfriend said his bank refunded his money, but the whole experience has made him and his girlfriend wary of future phone calls.
“Everyone cares about their family. You want to make sure that your family’s okay and to call and to threaten to do something to them is just a horrible thing to do,” he said.
The FBI would neither confirm nor deny if it was also investigating, but it has investigated similar cases in the past.