SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A San Diego woman is hoping to warn others after she was conned in a virtual kidnapping scam with a new twist.
Last Thursday, just before 9 a.m., Lesley Mumford, an IT program manager, got a call at work that appeared to be from her mom, who lives in Rancho Bernardo.
“I say, ‘Hello.’ I hear some sounds, like a woman in distress, some scuffling … and then a man comes on the phone. He’s pretty calm. He says, ‘She needs your help,’” said Mumford, an El Cerrito resident.
Mumford says the voice on the phone quickly became threatening.
“He painted a picture for me, of a man who was desperate for money,” said Mumford.
He told her if she contacted police, her mother was dead—and not just her.
"He said I swear on my baby's life that if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’m going to kill your mom, and I’m going to kill myself,” said Mumford.
Mumford says he demanded she send him money through the app Zelle. She tried to stay calm, because he was not, but she kept picturing her mom hurt.
“This was so traumatizing. It was terrifying,” said Mumford.
Eventually, she transferred $500 to the account of a name he gave her, before he demanded $400 more. After that transfer, he ended the call.
"He said, ‘God bless you.’ The phone went silent, but it was still on. I said, ‘Mom, hello? Hello?’ And it hung up on me,” said Mumford.
She immediately called her mom, who was at work and fine. Mumford realized she had been scammed.
“Not once did I think this wasn't real. I believed every second of it, and it started when I get a call from my mom,” said Mumford.
The practice of caller ID spoofing, used in a range of scams, is now the latest twist in virtual kidnapping schemes.
Mumford hopes sharing her story will prevent the next person who picks up a call, from becoming a victim.
"This was an 8-minute call from hell,” said Mumford.
Mumford filed a report with police and the FBI.
A spokesperson with the local FBI issued the following statement:
“The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved.
To avoid becoming a victim of this type of extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:
- Calls are usually made from an outside area code.
- May involve multiple calls.
- Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone. However, the subjects may spoof the alleged victim’s number.
- Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone.
- Callers prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim.
- Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service and the ransom amount may drop quickly.
If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:
- Stay calm.
- Try to slow the situation down.
- Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call. For instance, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is ok?"
- Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak, and ask questions only they would know.
- If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
- Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
- Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous.
If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe a ransom demand is a scheme, contact your nearest FBI office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or go to tips.fbi.gov.”