Virtual Kidnapping

‘I Will Kill Your Mom': San Diego Woman Tricked by Fake Extortion Call

A San Diego woman fell victim to a virtual kidnapping extortion call. The scammer claimed he had her mother, and was threatening to kill her if she didn’t pay up

An undated, black and white photo of an iPhone with a call in progress.
NBC 7

Lesley Mumford is leery about picking up the phone these days, and it is no wonder after a terrifying eight-minute conversation she had last Thursday.

"It showed up as my mom, so when I picked up I was ready to talk to my mom," Mumford remembered. "I hear a woman in distress, and I hear some scuffling."

Then she heard a man’s voice.

"I swear to God, if you don’t do everything I tell you, I swear on my baby’s life I will kill your mom and I’ll kill myself," Mumford heard him say.

Through what’s called "spoofing" -- using a recognized phone number -- Mumford was led to believe her mother, Linda, who is in her 60s, was kidnapped and in the hands of a desperate criminal.

"Not for a second did I not think this was real. Not for half a second," Mumford said.

By the end of the call, Mumford had wired two payments totaling $900 to the man on the other end of the phone for her mother’s freedom.

Turns out Linda wasn’t in the hands of a kidnapper at all. She was at work having a normal day.

As much as she wants her money back, Lesley said she would be just as satisfied knowing that her story helped someone else.

The FBI said these virtual kidnapping extortion calls are on the rise. On the Bureau's website is a list of things you can do and things you can look for to protect yourself.

Some things to know:

  • Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone.
  • Callers prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim.
  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service.
  • Somethings you can do:
  • Slow the situation down.
  • Attempt to call or determine the location of the reportedly “kidnapped” victim.
  • Request to speak to them and ask questions only the victim would know.

It is a hard lesson learned for Mumford.

"I was terrified. I was envisioning my mom beaten by this man who was holding her captive," Mumford said.

But it's one she won’t forget.

"Are people watching me text? Are they able to get into my apps? Are they able to unload my bank account?" Mumford wondered.

San Diego Police Department investigators may have gotten a break in the case. Mumford’s bank refused to wire the money without a name and phone number that could be verified. Mumford said the spoof kidnapper used a Georgia area code under the name of Kaeunae William, which could lead investigators to the suspect or someone working with him.

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