Your phone rings, and you answer. On the other end, a somewhat muffled voice says your child is kidnapped. And then you’re asked to wire money, or else.
It’s a scam hitting several Ramsey County communities, including Roseville, New Brighton, and St. Anthony — often 651 area codes. The scam is similar to previous ones over the years involving requests for money in order to get purported lotto winnings or a loved one out of jail. But this scam has a major twist: the threat of harm to a loved one.
“He said I’m with the Mexican Cartel. You’ve heard of us, haven’t you? And he said we’ve kidnapped your daughter. She saw something she shouldn’t have seen,” Jean Waite, a New Brighton resident, told Fox 9. Waite got the call Tuesday morning.
The caller told Waite to provide her cell number, and then called that number. The male voice asked her to keep her cell phone and drive to the bank and withdraw money, and then take the money to CVS where it could be wired. However, Waite wrote on the withdrawal envelope that “my daughter has been kidnapped.” The teller called 911. Waite’s husband had called 911 as well. Police stopped Waite in the parking lot as she prepared to drive the money to CVS.
“With three of four policemen in the parking lot at the bank, I was still so sure that’s [my daughter] who I talked to,” Waite said.
A Roseville resident got a similar call Wednesday morning.
“A woman was crying, sobbing, and she said mom I’m in real trouble. I’m going to need help,” the Roseville resident, who did not want her name released, told Fox 9, “there was a man on the line. He said you’re going to send money. And he said if you don’t send money, we’re going to cut her finger off and send it to you.
The woman hung up when the caller asked for money.
Police report receiving these calls, usually made to the elderly, almost hourly.
“Basically says we’ve kidnapped your family member. Then you hear a muffled scream or help me help me in the background. Of course what grandparent, what parent, what family member wouldn’t be concerned,” Lt. Lorne Rosand, of the Roseville Police Department, told Fox 9.
Wasting police resources
Investigators say the calls are not only traumatizing, and sometimes costly, but they also waste police resources.
“The taxpayers of Roseville are out a lot of resources during that 20 minutes, half hour we investigate the call,” Rosand said.
For example, a call on Monday afternoon created 90 minutes of terror. A Roseville couple received the threat about their daughter, who lives in Miami. The North Miami Police searched for the daughter at her home, but she was out of reach on a road trip, creating a 90 minute time period when the couple did not know whether their daughter was alive.
“These people could have given these elderly people a heart attack. They could have killed them with shock. Because my parents for an hour and a half didn’t know whether I was alive or dead,” Eden Rancaño, the daughter, told Fox 9.
Stopping the scam
Police say people who receive the call should hang up, never give out personal information, and then notify the police.
“Knowledge is power. Prevention is the key,” Bob Jacobson, the Director of Public Safety for New Brighton, told Fox 9. Jacobson suggests residents educate vulnerable family members and neighbors about the scam.
“Please let them know what’s going on,” Jacobson added.
The story constantly changes as well. In one call on Wednesday, the caller said the money was to be used for an injured family member.
Investigating the scam
Finding the source of the scam is difficult. The scammers could be out of the country, and using throw-away phones. In one New Brighton case, the victim wired money to Mexico. Victims have also attributed different accents to the male caller. For these reasons, police say prevention is the key.