Virtual kidnapping: A quick money-making scam?

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By Kotie Geldenhuys

When Jennifer DeStefano, a resident of Arizona in the USA, received an unexpected call from an unidentified number in January 2023, she was unaware of the distress it would cause her. Upon answering the phone, she heard what appeared to be her 15-year-old daughter, Briana (Brie), in a state of panic, desperately seeking help. Mrs DeStefano recalled: “I could hear her saying, ‘Mom, these bad men have me. Help me. Help me. Help me.’ Just recalling it gives me chills.”

A man then took the phone and told her: “Listen carefully. I have your daughter. If you involve anyone or contact the police, I will drug your daughter, harm her, transport her to Mexico, and you’ll never see her again.” Following this terrifying threat, the scammer demanded a ransom of $1 million, sending Mrs DeStefano into a state of sheer panic. After a brief negotiation, the ransom amount was reduced to $50 000. Thankfully, before the ransom was transferred, Mrs DeStefano managed to verify her daughter’s safety and confirmed that she had not been abducted. Briana was actually on a skiing trip with her father and was completely unharmed. It was later revealed that the scammers had employed Artificial Intelligence (AI) to mimic Briana’s voice in an attempt to extort money from their terrified family. The incident was immediately reported to law enforcement (Green and Weintraub, 2023).

This incident was not an isolated occurrence but instead, it was part of a widespread fraudulent scheme. In March 2023, TikToker Beth Royce reportedly received a call from an unidentified man who insisted that she pay him $1000, threatening harm to her sister if she refused. Throughout the call, the sound of a woman crying could be heard in the background. In December 2022, social media user Chelsie Gates experienced a similar situation when a man contacted her, warning her that he would harm her mother, whose crying were audible in the background, unless she paid the same amount of money. In both cases, the victims reluctantly paid the ransom out of fear for the safety of their family members (Cost, 2023).


[This is only an extract of an article that is published in Servamus: November 2023. This article is available for purchase.]

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