Internet hoaxes are nothing new, but lately scam artists seem to be upping the ante. Gone are the days of using far-fetched scenarios to gain access to your wallet (looking at you, Mr. Nigerian Prince). Instead, these tricksters are using close-to-home methods to tug at your heart– and purse– strings.
Thanks to the copious amounts of information about all of us on the World Wide Web, these hoaxers are able to build a robust case study on our family, friends, career, hobbies and more. They use this treasure trove of intelligence to try to trick us into inviting them into our lives. Most of the time, due to years of our inboxes being inundated with all kinds of kooky claims, we don’t fall prey to their antics.
But sometimes we do.
Just today, Nutley Police issued an alert for several instances of fraudulent activity taking place in the area. Over the past couple of weeks, instances of these “virtual kidnappings” have been reported in South Plainfield and Hillsborough.
One #HipNJ reader was recently a victim of one of the crueler acts in this evil operation. She contacted us to share her story in the hopes of saving others from becoming victims. Her and her family member’s names and locations have been changed to protect her anonymity.
Hi Hip New Jersey,
I know this story isn’t particularly “hip” but your readers need to know that something sinister is going on. I am so embarrassed to admit that this happened to me, but I know it can happen to anybody and I want to spare them from the horror show that was my Wednesday morning.
Please bear with me as I try to recount every detail possible…
I got to work bright and early and was ready to tackle my to-do list. As I was ho-humming along, I checked my cell phone at around 10 AM and noticed I had a couple missed calls from a familiar-looking 908-327-3445 number. I didn’t think much of it because I have customers in that area code. Just as I was going to call the person back, the number called again. I picked right up and put the caller on speaker, as I almost always do when taking a private cell phone call.
“Are you Rebecca Johnson’s sister?” A frantic, unfamiliar voice barked on the other end.
Immediately my heart jumped into my throat. “Yes, why?”
“Your sister was involved in a serious car accident.”
“WHAT?!” I shrieked, jumping out of my chair. “WHERE ARE YOU? IS SHE OK?”
“Your sister was pulling out of the gas station and she hit us with her red car. We’re in Newark,” the man answered. “But your sister is not okay.”
I started to hyperventilate. “WHICH HOSPITAL ARE YOU BRINGING HER TO?”
“No ma’am, we’re not bringing her to the hospital. She’s not hurt. But we have problems because she tried calling the police and ambulance even though we explained to her that we can’t be seen. We’re in this country illegally and we’re running from the law. But she’s being very stubborn and we had no choice but to bring her to our grandmother’s.”
My office started spinning. I noticed that a crowd had gathered outside my door and my co-workers all shared the same concerned expression. “Why did you bring her there?”
“Ma’am, we’re fugitives from the law. We’re holding your sister hostage until we can get this taken care of. She gave us your cell phone number since your parents are in Europe and her boyfriend is hard to reach at work. She said you are the only one she could call.”
Everything so far they said was true–our parents were away and Becky’s boyfriend’s job doesn’t really allow for phone calls. Not to mention, she has a red Nissan, travels all over the state for work (Newark included) and yes, is VERY stubborn. The facts he gave me were all correct, including that I was honestly the ONLY person she could turn to in a time like this.
I had to hold onto my desk to save myself from collapsing. “Ok, what do you need?”
“We just need the money to cover the deductible for the car damages and we’ll be out of your lives. We need $1,500.”
“Ok, done,” I answered breathlessly. As much as I was panicking for my sister’s life, I wanted to strangle her at the same time. She should have just went to the ATM, gave them what they wanted, and ended it. Now she’s in some stranger’s house with these lunatics?!
“Great. You have to wire the money to our family in Puerto Rico.”
“Wire the money? Why? Isn’t cash better for something like this?”
“No ma’am, we can’t be seen exchanging money with you. Once you wire us the money, we’ll drop your sister off safe and sound.”
I was so confused by their orders, but all I could think about was my poor sister fearing for her life.
“And if you screw this up…” the voice growled. “Or if you go to the police, or tell ANYBODY about this…we’re going to shoot and kill your sister, I promise you.”
I let out a cry, grabbed my keys and flew out of my office, blowing past my co-workers. Once I was in the car, I tried to listen and keep straight their orders.
They wanted me to wire $600 from one location and the rest from another location, both to an Augusto Piniero Reyes in Puerto Rico. The next hour was a blur as I went from one Moneygram to the next with them on the phone, trying to keep as calm as possible.
The group was comprised of three brothers that alternated talking to me from different phone lines. One of them, Danny, was the nicer of the bunch and calmly walked me through the transactions for the bulk of the time while talking to me from a 973-901-8427 number. One had a very heavy Spanish accent that was hard to understand, and the other one was straight-up abusive, constantly yelling and threatening me every time I asked about the state of my sister, which was every five minutes. In the midst of all this, I was getting text messages from a 813-217-1440 number warning me to “Do the right thing, or else your sister is going to get shot.”
Once I made the two wire transfers–one for $600 and one for $900– and waited in my car for them to verify the transactions, I started to finally think clearly. I wanted the police there for when they dropped my sister off, so I texted a cop friend of mine in addition to my husband.
My cop friend immediately called, but I declined him and kept declining him. I wasn’t allowed to be off the phone, and I couldn’t imagine what would have happened if I did…
“IT’S FAKE!” He texted.
The world stopped spinning. “Fake?! How can this be fake?” I wrote back. In the midst of catering to these criminals’ every demand, and with the fear that they would cause great harm to Becky if I didn’t succeed, the word “fake” hadn’t even entered my mind.
My husband then called and I declined him too.
“WTF are you talking about??? Is this some sort of scam?” He texted, adding to my confusion.
In the meantime, the meaner of the brothers said that the first wire didn’t go through and I had to send $500 more…or else.
My cop friend met me at my location with my husband close behind. He tried calling Becky but to no avail. I started to feel even more hopeless as he seemingly confirmed my sister’s dire situation with every unanswered ring.
Finally, just as I was about to bypass everyone’s pleas and follow their latest money demands, my friend proclaimed: “YOUR SISTER IS OK, GET OFF THE PHONE!”
All I did was hand my phone to my friend and collapsed into a big, heaping, crying mess in the middle of the drug store floor. My sister was safe at work and oblivious to all of the drama. She was okay…but I was the furthest thing from it.
Another hour was wasted filling out a police report, setting a claim with my bank and going to the two wire transfer centers to recoup the money. Luckily, I managed to get back $900 thus far.
The pain, embarrassment, paranoia and violation I feel right now is borderline debilitating; I feel as if I were mentally raped. How could I have been so stupid? These narcissistic, sick creatures knew exactly what to say and do in order for me to comply and like a brainless droid, I did. They appealed to my emotions first, rendering any common sense useless. My better judgement was clouded with the image of my sister hurt…or worse. Still, that is no excuse.
Please do not answer your phone if you do not recognize the number. If someone claims to have your family member hostage, call the cops immediately. Don’t let fear override your brain. And for the love of God, please don’t send money to anyone you don’t know.