When people think of someone being kidnapped and held for ransom, most people picture something out of a movie. A child is picked up off the streets and a phone call is made demanding money. But in this age of social media and internet scams, kidnapping has taken on new meaning.
Kishau Rogers received a phone call late last week, and when she answered the call, she heard a girl’s voice crying on the other end. At first she had no clue who the little girl was, but then the tearful voice said, “Mom.” And she immediately thought the voice sounded like her 14-year-old daughter’s.
“The voice said, ‘Mom, Mom, you gotta help me.’ There was enough similarity for me to stay on the phone. I kept asking her for her name. I wanted to see if she would say my daughter’s name. And she didn’t. She kept saying, ‘You gotta help me,’” Rogers told The Root in an interview.
Rogers tried to further engage in conversation with the child, but then a man interrupted the call. And her heart dropped.
“When he came on the phone he said, ‘Is this Ms. Rogers?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Is this Ms. Kishau Rogers?’ No one pronounces my name right on the first time. That’s when I thought it was real, because he said my name perfectly. You could hear the girl crying in the background. And there’s this man on the phone calling me by my name,” Rogers explained.
Rogers says she was then told that her daughter had been kidnapped. The male voice said that her daughter’s body would be cut up and placed in a bag if she didn’t pay a ransom. She hung up and called 911.
What Rogers didn’t realize was that she had just been the victim of a virtual kidnapping. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times wrote about the rise in scams that involve people calling, typically from a Mexican phone number, stating that your child has been kidnapped, and then demanding a ransom.
According to the report, the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department found that at least 250 calls were aimed at Los Angeles residents, costing victims roughly $114,000. Yes, there are people who took the calls seriously because of the state of shock they were put in when they received the calls, and the fact that they may not have realized they were being scammed.
In Rogers’ situation, she wasn’t in Los Angeles but in the Richmond, Va., area. Rogers says that in her case, the caller ID of the call she received displayed the number +52 (664) 462-4206, a Mexican phone number, but because she had an associate in Mexico, she didn’t think twice about answering the call. Of course, if you Google the number, you’ll notice that it’s been used before in virtual kidnappings as well as other scams.
“I called 9111 and I texted my husband,” Rogers recalled. “I texted a few people. The folks at 911 called [my daughter’s] school and one of my girlfriends who lives near the school went, and we were able to confirm that she was at the school.”
But even that wasn’t enough. Rogers needed proof that her child was actually in school, so she had someone take a photo and send it to her, which finally quelled her nerves.
But how seriously are local authorities taking such scams? Especially since those who fall prey to them are losing money.
“The school officer filed the police report. The 911 officer didn’t seem concerned, so they didn’t ask for any other information,” Rogers said regarding the 911 response. “The school officer is going to have the school notify other parents about the incident.”
So how did the man on the other end of Rogers’ call know how to pronounce her first name? Well, she does have a following on social media, to which are posted links to several interviews she’s done during which she’s pronounced her name. Rogers says she thinks the scammer studied up before contacting her.
Even though it’s now obvious that the girl on the call wasn’t Rogers’ daughter, it’s not always that obvious when you’re somehow thrown into a situation where you actually believe it’s life or death and your child is involved. Rogers said that there was one point during the call when she thought she heard an accent in the child’s voice, but fear overcame her, she says, and in her mind, the voice sounded exactly like her daughter’s.
Needless to say, after this incident, Rogers has made a few changes when it comes to protecting family and the advice she’s now giving to others.
“We have to be careful with what we’re putting on the internet. But at this point, there’s so much information out there. Have a clear strategy for reaching your loved ones,” Rogers said. “We have established rules of communication. My daughter has permission to answer texts from me in school. Also create some secret words, only something you and your people know. Just stay aware. It’s hard to keep track of all of these hoaxes.”
The FBI advises anyone who receives a virtual-kidnapping phone call to report it immediately to authorities, and never, obviously, send the person on the other end any money.