A Missouri woman has fallen victim to a scam artist who tricked her into thinking her daughter had been kidnapped. On the morning of August 15, a man called Nancy McGowan, threatened to cut her daughter’s fingers off and demanded money.

Missouri woman rattled by virtual kidnapping scheme

“He said ‘You cannot get off this phone with me. I can hear everything you’re saying. Do not say anything.’ They had a girl screaming that sounded very much like her,” McGowan tells Missourinet.

Through deceptions and threats, these kidnapping scammers coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart. They attempt to keep victims on the phone so they can’t verify their loved ones’ whereabouts or contact law enforcement.

McGowan went to the bank to withdraw money from her account. She wrote a note to the bank teller instructing the woman to say her balance was lower than it actually was. The teller clearly saw how rattled McGowan was and complied. After the transaction was completed, the teller called the police.

“Because I shorted the man, he was so mad. He was swearing. I couldn’t even imagine how vile this person was and the things that he said, the things that he was going to do to my daughter and me,” says McGowan.

He directed McGowan to various places to make wire transfers. By the third wire transfer, McGowan’s family came to her rescue. One of her daughters told McGowan the man is a scam artist and urged her to drive away.

Her GPS signal on her phone was turned off, but McGowan’s son drove around and began looking for her. He found her while the scam artist continued to call McGowan. Her son got into a big shouting match with the scammer.

“The guy ends up calling him and telling him all kinds of ‘We’re going to kill you and your family.’ My son is a pretty big, mature fella. Even his chain was a little rattled but he knew it was false,” says McGowan.

She says it was a relief to see her family and how involved they were throughout the event. She says she couldn’t sleep for several days afterwards.

“That happened on a Tuesday and he was still calling me that Saturday,” says McGowan.

The criminal has not been caught.

“I lost my money. I’m embarrassed but I don’t want anyone else to do that,” says McGowan.

Law enforcement agencies have been aware of virtual kidnapping fraud for at least two decades, but a recent FBI case illustrates how this frightening scam—once limited to Mexico and Southwest border states—has evolved so that U.S. residents anywhere could be potential victims.

In most cases, the FBI says the best course of action is to hang up. If you do engage the caller, do not say your loved one’s name and ask questions only the alleged victim would know. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family. Listen carefully to the voice of the alleged victim if they speak. Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone. To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.