A principal is warning parents about a scary extortion tactic growing in popularity after the mother of a University City High School student was nearly victimized by the shady scheme.
It’s called virtual kidnapping – the bad guys learn personal information about families, study their routines, and lead them to believe they're holding their loved one for ransom and prevent them from checking in on their whereabouts.
In this mother’s case, they demanded money for her son's life. All the while, he was at school following his normal routine.
Thankfully this parent was able to check with the school to make sure her son was where he was supposed to be, but parents aren’t always that lucky.
After hearing about the phone call Friday, the UC High principal sent out a mass email to parents detailing the scam.
After school, concerned parents shared their thoughts with NBC 7.
“They hit your most vulnerable place right,” said Diane Masser-Frye, mother to two kids at the school. “I mean, you imagine it and the first time I heard about it, I was terrified by it.”
Yes. Masser-Frye has heard about this before. Scary, right? While investigating a separate case of virtual kidnapping earlier this month, the Chula Vista Police Department told NBC 7 that it responds to about three cases like this one per month.
“Now that I’ve heard it three different times, it just feels like now you think if you get that phone call you’re just going to say ‘This isn't the real thing,’” Masser-Frye said.
For Adriene Bledsoe, another mother of two, this was the first time she had heard about it.
“Just mind blown right now,” she said about horror movie plot. “Its really scary because as a parent you definitely want to do anything you could to make sure your kids are OK and if it meant paying money you'd do it.”
Plenty of other parents were hearing about it for the first time, too, on Friday, and many said they don’t know how they would have responded knowing their child could be at risk.
“I would be wondering where do I get the money from,” she said. The more you hear about it and the more you know, the less likely you are to respond by panicking and the more likely you are to say ‘OK, this is probably not real. Let me do what I need to do to make sure my child is safe and not panic.’”
And virtual kidnappers don’t just target kids. The kidnappers in the case NBC 7 was investigating earlier this month told their target they had his mother.