York Co. family speaks after being targeted by virtual kidnapping scam

Posted at 3:00 PM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-07 18:57:44-04

YORK Co., Va. - Deputies are warning the community after several virtual kidnapping scams scared local residents.

On August 5, deputies were dispatched to the Tabb area of York County around 4:30 p.m., for a report of a possible abduction.

This turned out to be the second call of this nature in the past two months, according to the York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office. It was determined in both cases that the victims were led to believe that their loved one had been abducted and that there was a demand for ransom money.

No abduction had actually taken place. Reports say it was all a scam in an attempt to get money from the victims.

Daniel Rawlings tells News 3 he was the most recent target of this virtual kidnapping scam. He says on Monday afternoon he received a call from an unknown number. When he answered it, he thought he was talking to his daughter.

"The first thing I hear is this woman very hysterical, crying, and she’s saying, 'Daddy, daddy - I’ve had an accident.' Instantly - and my wife could hear as well - instantly, both my wife and I were convinced that it was our daughter," shared Rawlings.

As he tried to find out if he daughter was okay, a man comes on the phone. He told Rawlings he had kidnapped his daughter and if he ever wanted to see her again, he had to send him $5,000.

"At that point we would have emptied our bank account to get my daughter back," he explained. "We thought for sure that we were hearing my daughter's voice and that she was in danger."

Rawlings says the man made sure he and his wife stayed on the phone with him. He instructed them to go to a Western Union Bank. Rawlings believed his daughter was in danger. While he didn't want to upset the kidnappers, he knew he needed help, so he found an excuse to step away from the phone and called 911 from another cell phone.

"I said I had to get my wallet," explained Rawlings. "I jumped out of the car, went to the end of the driveway and dialed 911. I told the dispatcher just a quick overview and I said, 'I can’t talk to you very long because he’s demanding I be back in the car.'"

Deputies followed Rawlings' cell phone location and eventually caught up with the couple at a Walgreens. Quietly, Rawlings told deputies about his daughter and as they went to begin the money transfer, deputies began to look for their daughter.

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Her cell phone was off, but deputies called the Hampton restaurant where she is a waitress and found her safe. They were able to tell Rawlings seconds before the money transfer went through.

"They had her immediately call me," said Rawlings through tears. "I could verify to the officers that yes, that is my daughter. It was just an incredible, incredible relief. The deputies saved us."

Sheriff Diggs with the sheriff's office sent out the following statement about the scam:

“Scam calls like these raise many concerns. Not only is this scary to the victims, investigating false crimes such as these take considerable resources. Good people often lose their hard earned money. It is believed that the suspects may have learned personal information through unsecured social media sites. Please be sure to review the settings of all of your social media accounts to make sure they are secured to protect yourself and your family. Please share this information with everyone you know so that others will not become a victim of this terrible scam!”

This information can be found on the FBI’s website:

The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved. To avoid becoming a victim, look for these possible indicators:

  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone, insisting you remain on the line.
  • Calls do not come from the supposed victim’s phone.
  • Callers try to prevent you from contacting the “kidnapped” victim.
  • Calls include demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer to Mexico; ransom amount demands may drop quickly.

If you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, the following should be considered:

  • In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
  • If you do engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
  • Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
  • Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. 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.
  • Don’t agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous.

If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe a ransom demand is a scheme, contact local law enforcement immediately.