Family warns of terrifying virtual kidnapping scam

Posted at 10:39 AM, Apr 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-26 10:55:29-04

OGDEN, Utah — A father shaken to his core by a virtual kidnapping scammer who targeted his family twice has an important warning for parents everywhere.

Jeff Weber was driving his work vehicle last week when his cellphone rang. It was an unknown number. He did not answer. But then it rang again with the same unknown number, and he answered it.

"I heard a young girl crying saying, 'Daddy, daddy, I'm scared,' then the kid voice went away and a man came on and told me he kidnapped my daughter and if I ever wanted to see her again I would not tell anybody or hang up," Weber told Fox 13. "The guy sounded serious."

Weber asked him questions about his daughter like what is she wearing and asked to let him talk with her again. The man on the other end of the line refused to put the girl back on the phone.

"It scared me to death," Weber said. "The guy says, 'You know I'll kill her. You'll never see her again. You'll be paying for a funeral.'"

Weber did what he could to try to discretely get hold of his wife, LeeAnn Weber, to confirm that their 13-year-old daughter was safe at school. Weber happened to be at work so he quietly told his co-workers to call.

"It was pretty tense. I was trying to use a phone. I couldn't even text my wife," he said. "The secretary let me borrow her phone and I couldn't even text message. Like, I was shaking so bad I couldn't push the buttons. It was so bad."

Weber and his co-workers confirmed with his wife that she made it to their daughter’s school to see for herself that the girl was safe. And with that, Weber could finally hang up with the alleged kidnapper -- confident it was a scam.

"It's just evil. You call somebody and tell them you have the most important thing in the world to them," Weber said.

They filed a police report, but Salt Lake City officers said finding these virtual kidnappers is almost impossible.

LeeAnn Weber said she feels helpless."

"It's the most terrifying thing that a parent can go through to think that someone has your child and you don't know where they are," she said.

A few days later, on Saturday, Weber received a call on his cellphone from the same unknown number. His wife was with him at home and recorded the call.

"It was nearly the exact same man with the same scam," Weber said.

This is how the call went:

  • Alleged child kidnapped: "Dad, I’m scared."
  • Weber: "You’re scared?"
  • Scammer: "Tell her to stop crying, give me the phone. Hello, Jeff? I just kidnapped your daughter, you already heard her, are you going to help her out, yes or no?"
  • Father: "Sure."
  • Scammer: "You want to help her? I don’t want you doing nothing. Don’t call the police or tell anybody else about what’s going on, all right? If I hear you tell somebody, I’m going to hang up on you and you’re never going to hear from her again."

This time, Weber knew not to fall for it -- and told the caller exactly what he felt about these manipulative calls.

Weber said the man told him, "Fine, I will just find somebody else to rob."

That, Weber said, is when he realized the scammer could just as easily prey on another family who might fall for it and pay the scammer.

Weber has this message for parents:

"Keep the caller on the phone as long as possible," he said. "Say whatever you have to to not hang up, and find a way to also call police and call your son or daughter to make sure they are safe and where they are supposed to be."

A spokesman with the Salt Lake City Police Department said a major red flag is if someone on the phone tells you not to call police.

"Call police,” Officer Greg Wilkins said. "The problem is, these scammers know it is hard to locate them and hard to criminalize them when they fail to scam someone."

Below is a recording of the second scam call made to the Webers: