Imagine while you are at work one day, you receive a phone call from an unknown number and when you pick up, the stranger on the end of the line tells you that they have kidnapped your child, and is now demanding you pay them a ransom.
You suddenly hear muffled cries in the background and can make out between sobs, “Mama! Please save me!”.
Your hearts sinks and your mouth goes dry. You fear the worst and don’t know what to do or how to get help because the caller has explicitly instructed you not to hang up the phone.
This is exactly what happened to a 40-year-old fruit seller last November, according to a Straits Times news report, who received such a phone call and was told to pay a ransom of $10,000 if she ever wanted to see her son again.
So she immediately went to withdraw the money from the bank. But when the POSB Woodlands branch service manager, Kina Neo, noticed that her customer wanted to make a withdrawal of $10,000, she tried to make small talk but to no avail.
It was then that the woman wrote a note saying that her teenage son had been kidnapped. The quick-thinking bank service manager brought her to a private room and after communicating through a few more hand-written notes, Mrs Neo discovered that her customer’s son was serving the National Service.
She was then able to get in touch with his officer-in-charge who confirmed that he was still in camp and that’s when they realised that the phone call was just a hoax.
What is a kidnap scam?
No parent would ever want to receive such a phone call claiming that their child has been kidnapped, but how do you know whether the call is just a hoax?
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, victims receive phone calls claiming that their child or family member has been kidnapped and they may even hear the distressed screaming and crying of their “loved one” in the background.
The victims are warned not to tell anyone about the kidnap and must stay on the line until they have transferred the “ransom” money via a remittance agency, usually to an overseas bank.
Failure to do so will supposedly result in their loved one getting harmed.
Increase in kidnap scams
In just the first half of this year, there has already been 241 kidnap scams reported, which is an increase from 216 cases last year.
Out of these cases, 22 victims were scammed of a total of $98,100, and the highest sum that was made over a single incident last January was $45,000.
These kidnap scams have tripled since 2013 and the police has received 422 reports of such scams attempts last year, as compared to 178 reported the year before.
The number of successful kidnap scams where the victims actually transferred money to the caller’s bank account has also spiked from 13 cases in 2013, to 40 cases in 2014.
Guard yourself against kidnap scams
Kidnap scams are on the rise in Singapore, so what should you do to avoid falling victim to such scams?
The Crime Prevention Advisory provided by the Singapore Police Force advises that you:
- Remain calm and try to contact your child to make sure that they are safe
- Call the police immediately at ‘999’ to report the case
- Do not transfer any money to the caller
You should also refrain from disclosing any of your personal details to the caller, and try to verify the authenticity of the supposed kidnapper’s claims by asking them to answer questions about the “victim”, such as their name, age or birthday.
Do you know anyone who has fallen victim to kidnap scams? Or have you ever received such phone calls? Share your story in the comments section below.