PURCELL, Okla. (KFOR) – The Purcell Police Department is warning about a bizarre scam involving kidnapping and ransom, which starts with a terrifying phone call.

Early in August, a couple got one of these calls from a Mexico phone number and were told their daughter and grandchildren were being held captive inside a bathroom at a local Walmart. The alleged kidnapper’s instructions were urgent and clear: drive to the store and wire him money, or their loved ones were dead.

The caller even had a woman on the phone acting as the daughter being held at gunpoint.

“Screaming on the phone that, ‘I’m being held hostage. I’m being kidnapped. They’re going to kill me.'”

The woman was told after they got their receipt for the wire transfer, to wave it outside of her car window and her loved ones would be released.

She and her husband couldn’t reach their actual daughter on the phone and rushed to the Walmart, also alerting police.

Sgt. Scott Stephens said in the heat of the moment, anybody could fall for this scam.

“To someone who thinks their loved one may be in jeopardy, they don’t want to believe it, but they’re likely to believe it, simply just out of fear,” he said.

The couple got a hold of their daughter a short time later and all was well.

“They were upset, of course, that it happened to them,” Stephens said. “They were relieved that everything was okay. The family was all right. Nobody lost any money.”

Sgt. Stephens wrote up a full bulletin on how this kidnapping scam works and how people can avoid falling for it. It’s been happening across the country. He listed the following common variations:

  • The calls are often placed from prepaid mobile phones, often from Mexico. Caller ID will show the Mexican International Calling Code of “52”.
  • The calls are often placed from prepaid mobile phones, often from Mexico. Caller ID will show the Mexican International Calling Code of “52”.
  • Some callers claim to be part of a violent Mexican criminal organization.
  • The callers use specific information about the family gained from social media.
  • They may spoof the alleged “hostage’s” phone number, so it appears the hostage is making the call.
  • During the call, the suspect may have a crying or screaming accomplice in the background who matches the gender of the “hostage.”
  • The ransom payment demands maybe in the form of wire transfer, peer-to-peer mobile phone apps, or virtual currency such as Bitcoin.
  • The caller may try to keep the victim on the phone during the financial transaction to prevent them from calling the “hostage” or law enforcement.
  • The caller may use internet map programs to guide the victim to various locations and convince them they are under surveillance.

They also provided the following suggestions on how to handle the call:

  • Stay calm.
  • Try to slow the situation down.
  • Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.
  • Request to speak to the “hostage” directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone.
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim. If they speak, ask questions only they would know the answer to, i.e., specific events that only they and you would know and had not been previously posted to social media.
  • If they do not let you speak to the “hostage,” ask them to describe them or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
  • While staying on the line with the alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged victim from another phone.
  • Attempt to text or contact the “hostage” via social media.
  • Attempt to physically locate the victim.
  • To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the instructions, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
  • Do not directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
  • Do not send any items of value to the suspect. Call your local law enforcement for further guidance.