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Greensboro police warn of ‘kidnapping’ scam

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Greensboro police say scammers are trying to extract money from dentists in the Greensboro area and warn other parents could also receive the distressing phone call that goes with the scam.

The phone call sounded like it was something that dentist Mark Hyman needed to take immediately.

“It’s a colleague saying, ‘I need help’ so of course you want to help so your guard is down and then all of a sudden, bam,” said Hyman. “I hear a young girl scream and they yell, ‘Daddy, they have me’ and then a very deep male voice comes on phone.”

That man demands money in exchange for the person’s daughter but Greensboro police said they yet to look into one in which anyone was held for ransom.

Hyman said he was alarmed by the call but quickly realized that the girl didn’t sound like his daughter.

“I'm glad I trusted my instinct that it was a scam and I didn't fall for it and hopefully I helped other people not fall for it too,” said Hyman.

Hyman called police and learned that other area dentists had received similar calls. His next move was to write a letter to area colleagues.

“Turns out over a dozen of my colleagues were called,” said Hyman. “Some people didn't have children. Some people had gotten my email and were prepared for it. Others hadn't gotten the email, had young daughters and were horrified, so it was really frightening.”

Greensboro police said even though no actual kidnapping has taken place, callers often go to great lengths to convince the parent otherwise.

In some instances across the country, callers claimed to be members of a drug cartel or corrupt law enforcement. They then provided the parent with detailed instructions for the safe “return” of the allegedly kidnapped child. These instructions usually included demands of a ransom that must be paid immediately and typically by wire transfer.

It’s all a scheme designed to scare family members into wiring money. Federal officials who have investigated this scam believe the callers may have obtained information about the children through social media or open resources available to the public.

“This scam reinforces the need for parents to know their children’s whereabouts and have good safety plans in place,” said Sgt. J.L. Steinberg, with the Greensboro Police Department’s Family Victims’ Unit. “Talk with your children about this scheme, so they know you are asking about their whereabouts because you are concerned about them — not because you don’t trust them.”

To avoid becoming a victim of the kidnapping extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:

  • Incoming calls made from an outside area code or unfamiliar number
  • Multiple successive phone calls from the same number
  • Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone
  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the line

Should you get one of these calls, hang up immediately and check on the wellbeing of your child. Then call 336-373-2222 to report the scam.

If you are unable to contact your child and are concerned for his or her safety, call 911.

The reality of child abductions is that only 25 percent are taken by strangers. Most children who are abducted are taken by family members or acquaintances.