By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Parents across the country are receiving calls telling them their child will be killed if they do not pay a ransom, but it’s all a hoax. WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren reports on the nightmare situation that’s already affected several Maryland families.

The victim gets an anonymous phone call, telling them their loved one will be shot or worse if they don’t wire money.
“He told me that he hit him over the head and he was bleeding out,” said one woman. “I believed him. I truly believed him,” she said.

The extortionists have targeted parents of college students in Frostburg and at the University of Maryland College Park, and a family in Frederick.

“He said, we have your daughter. You’ll see your daughter again if you do everything we tell you to do, and I started to cry,” said a mother.

The calls are coming from thousands of miles away, typically in Mexico, and they’re all but impossible to trace, with the scammers frequently changing their numbers and blocking their phones.

These scammers are collecting “thousands of dollars in ransom. And you’re talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time,” said Eric Arbuthnot, FBI.

Scammers find their victims by targeting affluent neighborhoods — and using public social media posts to get personal information they use in their calls, and those calls are so believable, many times, frightened victims do wire money.

The FBI warns, even if they stop one group of scammers, another is ready to take over.

“If he heard anything like I was asking for help, then he would kill my daughter,” said a mother.

If you’re hit with a similar scam, the FBI says you should always call or text the alleged victim, slow down the conversation, and contact police.

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