Phone Scams Can Take Different Forms

Phone Scams can happen to anyone, at any time. Some of them are pretty obvious. Others are a little sneakier. But some are downright evil. Here is one of those.

An Unexpected Phone Call

About 2 years ago, I was enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon at home with my wife when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but my number gets passed on by clients and students, so it’s not unusual. I answered it and immediately heard a male voice, crying and just saying “Dad. I’m sorry dad”.

At the time, my son was a student at Texas Tech University. When I tried telling him to calm down so I could understand him, a new voice came on the phone. I don’t remember his name, but let’s say he called himself ‘Officer Estrada’ since he had an accent. Officer Estrada asked me if I was his dad. I said I was, and he started asking a couple of questions. I interrupted and asked what was going on and if my son was ok. Estrada told me there was a crash and that my son was being checked by the paramedics.  He went back to asking questions. I answered a couple, then noticed they were no longer questions you’d ask to verify my relationship. I started to suspect a phone scam, so I told him to stop and tell me what was going on.

Something Wasn’t Right

This is when it got weird. Estrada asked me if I was sitting down. I don’t think any parent would hear that not flash to “Oh my word, is my child seriously injured”. I’m pretty good at being calm under stress, but I’m going to admit that shook me a little. I lied and told him I was and then Estrada asked “Are you alone”? I assumed he was asking so I could have someone to support me, so I told him no, my wife was here. His response was “I need you to go to another room and be alone.” That “order” relieved me because I knew now that this was a phone scam.

I lied again and told Estrada I was alone, and he changed his tone. He started threatening me to listen carefully and that if I did what I was told, they wouldn’t have to kill my son. When Estrada asked if I understood I had some things to say to him. None of them were kind or life-affirming. (I may have mentioned that I have more guns than money and that if anything happened to my son, I’d bring every one of them to find Estrada.) We hung up on each other. It took me a bit to get my kid to answer the phone, but I was able to verify he was ok.

This was a scam. A very grotesque one, but still a scam, nevertheless. Had I gone along, Estrada would have given me instructions on how to transfer money to him.

It Is Still Happening

So why do I bring this up now? Because the scam is still out there. It recently resurfaced in Oakland and it could just as easily be your phone that rings next.

Why does this work? Most of us know that a Nigerian prince isn’t giving us $50 million because he heard we are a good person. But this plays on the parental instinct to protect their child. It gives them just enough info to make them imagine the worst (like asking me if I was sitting down) but not enough to tell us exactly what is going on. Some of the questions Estrada started asking seemed like fishing for identity theft info, which is what made me start pushing back.

Most smart kidnappers would also call from your child’s phone because it is more likely that you’d answer it and it serves as a verification that they have some contact with the child.

So what do you do?

  • First, don’t believe them. Breath. Hang up on them and stop listening to their trash.
  • Now, breathe again. In through your nose for a 4 count. Hold for a 4 count, then exhale through your mouth for a 4 count. Repeat at least 3 times. Feel yourself calm down.
  • Next, write down all the information you can remember, including the phone number if one is displayed.
  • Verify your child is ok. Call them or wherever they should be (school, friend’s house, etc). Don’t sound panicked. Do the breathing exercise again if you need to. Tell your kid that you love them and let them go back to what they are doing.
  • Call the police. Let them know what happened. Give them all the information you have. It may not seem like much, but it may also be important when combined with other “not important” information.
  • Lastly, congratulate yourself for not falling for the phone scam. You want to protect your family. This scam plays on that. So well done for not letting your fear take over.

Most phone scams are not like this. They still deal in deception but usually prey on confusion or financial situations. If you’d like training on common scams that you may encounter via email, phone, or in person, contact us. We can train your church group, workplace, or HOA how to not be a victim of fraud.

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