WYCKOFF, N.J. – A terrified Wyckoff woman who thought she’d heard her kidnapped teenage daughter screaming on the other end of a scam phone call was headed to the bank to withdraw $10,000 in ransom money when she came upon a township police officer.
It was yet another example, police warned, of how scammers can play on people’s emotions to try and steal their money.
The would-be victim heard screams in the background as the caller demanded $10,000 for the safe return of whom she thought was her 14-year-old daughter, Lt. Joseph Soto said.
She was on her way to the bank to withdraw the money, with the caller still on the line, when she came upon Officer William Christopher, Soto said.
Flagging the officer down, the terrified mother told him what had happened.
Christopher directed her to continue on to the bank while he followed. He also called in to headquarters to have his colleagues go to the girl’s school to check on her.
The school was briefly locked down, the girl was found and she was soon reunited with her mother, Soto said.
As soon as the mom handed police her phone, the scammer hung up, he said.
The call came from somewhere in Mexico, Soto said.
“[It’s] a very common scam,” he said. “The caller will often use fear tactics and urgency in order to get you to become a victim.”
A variation on the theme involves a relative supposedly involved in an accident and needing bail money.
“The caller will often claim that their injuries from the accident are making them sound different on the phone,” Soto said.
“These calls are often made to grandparents and the caller will plead with them not to tell any other family members,” the lieutenant said.
“Very often, the request will be to make a wire transfer of the funds, or purchase prepaid gift cards and turn over the account information on the cards to the caller,” he said.
That’s because these kinds of payment ordinarily are untraceable: Once you give the caller the card numbers, that money is gone.
“If you receive a call regarding a kidnapping or a family member needing money due to being in an accident, please check with your family member and contact the police before believing the caller on the line,” Soto said.
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