Two days ago (August 24, 2015) at 12:49 pm Pacific time, I received a phone call, "This is a kidnap ransom demand call," that for a fleeting second I considered a joke. After my light response it was immediately made clear to me that I either "listen up!" or my daughter is dead.
The caller said: "We have your daughter S. in our truck and this is a kidnapping...if you don't listen and do exactly as told we will either send you her thumb that we have cut off, or the rest of her in a body bag. Do you understand?"
"Do you want to speak with her?"
Next I hear my daughter's trembling voice saying: "Mom, Mom please help...I am in big trouble." I recognize her voice, her words...
After that I doubt there would be anyone on the planet that would not give all their attention to the harrowing situation that followed, where you are not given even a second to fully comprehend or process what you are dealing with. For the next hour and 14 minutes, I became an automaton taking orders from a poorly spoken cyber terrorist.
He first asked for my cell phone number, emphasizing that if I hang up the landline before they have me on the cell phone, my daughter is dead, as she witnessed a murder that she should not have.
Once on the cellphone, he asked how much cash I have on hand (in retrospect I realize that even a few hundred dollars would have done it, as all they wanted was an efficient, quick transaction) and then he instructed me to get the cash, my car keys, walk to my car, and "shut up!" until I hear his voice again.
Once in the car he screamed: "Have you started the car?" "Yes!" I replied. "Then start driving to CVS drugstore" (they even knew the closest location to me and guided me there). They knew it had an underground garage and told me to go inside, stand in line, attract no attention and when I get to the check-out person taking payment, to advise that I want to send a Moneygram.
While in line I was to take down verbatim the information: what name to send it to, what country, to call him son when I get to the teller, assuring me, "Don't worry son, your wife will have this in her account in minutes." I said don't worry son several times. He said this because the Moneygram was to be made out in a woman's name. I had to repeat the spelling four times (I had no pen and he listened and screamed all through the ordeal while I obtained one) and that while it was addressed to Mexico City, you are to say: "It is to be released at any location!"
This took about 25 minutes, counting the cash, producing my ID, the teller generating a foot long receipt, and once completed the worst part of the nightmare was yet to come.
He told me to turn right when exiting the garage and stop. For a harrowing minute there was silence. When I asked what now, he screamed "Shut up!" When he spoke again he asked for all the routing numbers on the receipt (over 20) and told me that I was to tear it into a "million" pieces and to start driving slowly until I find a manhole. I could not find one. He said to turn right in the next alley and do I see the big commercial dumpster? Yes, there is one. "Throw every little piece away, you are being watched, and be quiet, as I will not speak again until it hits my account and the cash is in my possession...no matter how long it takes."
I then spent 7-10 blurry minutes sitting in my car with no electronic device other than my cellphone. Again he returned after an eternity, told me that he is in possession of the cash, but if I hang up my daughter is dead -- clearly his favorite phrase. Then once again hair-raising dead silence. Next he told me to drive within four blocks of my home, and tell him when I am there. I told him, and again a long pause on his end, while I'm in a cold sweat. Finally, he said, "Now start driving slowly, we need a few minutes to drop your daughter there. We will push her out of our truck, license plates are covered, but keep your eyes closed that you don't accidentally make eye contact with our driver." At this point he hung up.
I do as I am told, at this point numb with some hope, in an emotionally confused state, not thinking clearly. Can it get any worse?
Oh yes. The next 20 minutes were the most horrific by far. Phone connection dropped, no truck, desperately calling my daughter and no answer at her home or mobile. Holding hysterics at bay, I keep on calling her, not thinking the police, nor getting help. There was no one and no time to explain in any case the events of the past hour. On my third attempt at both her numbers; she answers the phone.
She has been home all morning, did not know what I was talking about.
I feel today as if I have received hundreds of lashes, the temporary euphoria that we are ok is now gone, and I suffer the aftermath of shaking hands and a tormenting headache.
I AM WRITING THIS FOR YOUR SAKE. FOR THE HUNDREDS IN THE FUTURE WHO WILL BE VICTIMS OF THIS AGONIZING EXPERIENCE, and hopefully to avert the numbers who suffer. Please take heed of this memoir of caution.
Look up "Virtual Kidnapping" on the official web site of the FBI. You will read reports from victims and may come to the conclusions I had come to: these perpetrators don't necessarily target the affluent or the "visible." The target is simply the one who answers the phone, who is not at the time with the family member at risk. They want only an efficient and rapid transaction. I am going public, as I am convinced that retaliation is not part of their business plan. It's a numbers game, and if you and I tell as many as will listen, the incidence of these atrocious schemes of extortion will die out.
Unfortunately as of now it's classified as a white collar crime, and I am hoping that the FBI will re-categorize it correctly, as a federal cyber crime. This will ensure that each episode of virtual kidnapping is deservedly, fully and appropriately investigated, as many local police departments will not get involved. Using calculated deceptions, threats of violence, sophisticated technology and carefully devised psychological tactics, these criminals convince families that their loved ones have been kidnapped and hurt, all to secure ransom before the family/loved ones suspect it's not real.
How frightening that these criminals could actually duplicate my daughter's voice, and even know what locations were in my vicinity. In this wireless world, we must comprehend the ever-expanding, wicked realities that come with our cyber existence.
Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation