Imagine you’re at work when you receive a phone call from an unknown number. Do you answer it? It could be a friend using a different cellphone or any number of other things. You decide to ignore it. Then the phone rings again, displaying the same unfamiliar number. This time you answer it – but what next? Well, when this happened to father Jeff Weber, he couldn’t have prepared himself for what he would hear. Indeed, it might just have been the worst phone call that he could ever have received.
Jeff Weber lives with his family in Ogden, Utah – a railroad town in what is, of course, a huge country. Now each year, 5 percent of the population fall victim to either violent or property-related crime. Yet despite Ogden’s high per capita crime rate, the Weber family never thought that they would receive a phone call like the one they did.
The Weber family seem just like any other, and likewise, Wednesday, April 19, 2017, started like any other day. Jeff’s 13-year-old daughter headed off for school while he went to work. But it was on this day, while the father was at the wheel of a HazMat vehicle, that he received the chilling call.
Jeff would later explain exactly what happened. “I heard a young girl crying, saying, ‘Daddy, daddy, I’m scared,’” he told Fox13. “Then the kid’s voice went away, and a man came on.” In that moment, Jeff believed that his worst nightmare had come true.
The caller told Jeff that he had kidnapped his daughter. Worse, the voice on the other end of the line explained that if the father wanted his daughter to live then he couldn’t alert anyone else to the call or hang up the phone. Moreover, the man sounded horribly serious. “It scared me to death,” said Jeff. “The guy [said], ‘I’ll kill her. You’ll never see her again. You’ll be paying for a funeral.’”
Jeff knew at this point that he had to establish whether his daughter was okay. He therefore asked the caller if he could speak to his daughter again. However, the man refused to answer any of his questions or let him talk with her.
The caller then demanded that Jeff go to a bank and transfer funds over in order to save his daughter’s life. The father had to think quickly. He needed to get in touch with his daughter’s school to confirm what the kidnapper had told him.
The caller had, however, given the father strict instructions not to hang up the phone – and that made it seemingly impossible for him to try to contact anyone. Luckily, though, Jeff found a way.
A colleague – a secretary – let Jeff borrow her phone. However, he struggled to even send a text message. “I was shaking so bad I couldn’t push the buttons. It was so bad,” explained Jeff.
But after Jeff finally reached his wife, LeeAnn, the story would take a twist. LeeAnn managed to get through to their daughter on her phone – and it turned out that she had no idea of the supposed threat to her safety.
To be doubly sure that her daughter was safe, though, LeeAnn headed to the school to definitively determine the situation. “To think that someone is preying on parents, to tell them that their child is kidnapped… Parents would do anything for their kid, and this person is preying on that,” said LeeAnn.
When LeeAnn then passed on the news to Jeff, he knew for certain that the threat he had received was nothing more than a hoax. And once he was certain, he hung up on the supposed kidnapper.
The father was, understandably, relieved. “I could hardly walk,” he said. “My legs wouldn’t work.” Jeff and his wife then called the Salt Lake City police to file a report. At this point, the police explained that although such hoaxes are occasionally reported, identifying the perpetrators can be extremely difficult.
What’s more, extraordinarily, this was not the last time that the Webers would encounter the scam. Only a few days after the first phone call, Jeff received another call from an unknown number. This time, though, he was at home with LeeAnn, and they put the caller on speakerphone and recorded the conversation.
The first thing they heard was, once again, a young girl crying out for her dad. However, this time, when the man began to speak to the father, he referred to him by name. “Hello, Jeff,” said the scammer. “I just kidnapped your daughter. You already heard her. Are you going to help her out? Yes or no?” The use of Jeff’s name aside, the spiel was almost identical to the first one.
This time, then, Jeff was in no doubt that the caller was a fraud. And when he refused to play along, the other man actually became annoyed. In fact, the father said that the man finally retorted, “Fine, I will just find somebody else to rob.” Jeff therefore knew that he had to warn other families, so he decided to post the recording on Facebook.
Worryingly, too, these cases seem to be becoming more and more common. Virtual kidnapping scams are being reported across America – and police say the calls often come from Mexico. Indeed, both calls that the Webers received originated from over the border.
Private intelligence firm Stratfor has actually even published an analysis of these types of extortion attempts. “While virtual kidnappings have not been widely seen in the United States and Europe, they have [become] common in parts of Latin America and Asia,” the report noted.
And the scam has, in fact, been prevalent in Mexico for almost a decade now. Indeed, one Mexican virtual kidnapping ring that was recently uncovered was found to be operating right out of a prison.
There’s no doubt that the scam is a particularly sinister way in which to trick people into handing over cash. “It’s just evil,” said Jeff. “You call somebody and tell them you have the most important thing in the world to them.” You can only imagine what you would do if you received just such a call – but thanks to Jeff Weber’s warning, you have a foot up if the threat is a fake.