A North County family is living life looking over their shoulder after a phone call led a father to believe one of his daughters had been kidnapped and being held for ransom.
The father called it a 13-hour phone call from hell.
“Jack,” who asked that we not reveal his family’s real names, said he was doing some grocery shopping in preparation for a family weekend getaway when he got a call from an unfamiliar number.
“Daddy! Daddy! Help me daddy!” the voice on the other end of the line screamed.
“It sounded like my little girl, and I said my daughter's name,” Jack said.
Then the caller told him they had kidnapped his daughter “Jane” and asked him how much her life was worth.
Before Jack knew it, he was receiving specific directions to banks to pull out money. He was not allowed to get off the phone or ask questions, and he had to refer to the man on the other end of the call as “son” while he referred to Jack as “father.”
“He went into graphic detail about what he was going to do to my child as far as making her suffer and ultimately killing her,” Jack said.
Jack was directed to at least three banks where he was to clear out his bank accounts in separate withdrawals. He was then given turn-by-turn directions to places where he wired more than $10,000 to Mexico.
All the while, the extortionist was listening to Jack’s conversations gathering crucial information about him like his home address.
As Jack raced across town for hours following the orders of the man on the other line, his wife “Jill” and their children wondered where he was. Unbeknownst to Jack, Jane was safe and sound at home.
Eventually, Jill got a call from Jack.
“It was an unusual phone number, and it was him,” Jill said. “He told me this story about how he wasn't going to be home until tomorrow.”
It wasn't until Jack took a risk and posted a Facebook message from his iPad asking for help that Jill realized something was wrong. She immediately called 911. Deputies suggested no one answer the messages in case it wasn't him.
Meanwhile, the extortionist had lead Jack to a hotel in Laguna Beach and told him to stay there.
Deputies pinged his phone to the location and came to get him.
Detectives out of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s San Marcos Station are still investigating the case.
Jill told NBC 7 after what happened she did a simple online search for "virtual kidnapping," and learned her family is not alone.
In some virtual kidnappings, people learn the habits and routines of families and try to catch them in situations like they caught Jack, separated from their loved ones and unable to confirm their location. They use the victim’s fear of what could possibly happen to their child or loved one against them and prevent them from checking in on their whereabouts.
Jill said she is now afraid to answer any phone calls from numbers she is unfamiliar with.