The callers demand ransom in the form of a credit card payment for the safe return of the child.
“They sometimes have the name of the child … which makes this call extremely worrisome,” says an alert issued by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe on Wednesday, Nov. 9.
“Please know the local authorities are aware of this and have indicated it is a recent scam, and there is no reason to panic or remit payment.”
The archdiocese does not believe anyone has paid a ransom amount, according to Donna Illerbrun, superintendent of the archdiocese’s schools.
She says parents are told the callers are “from the cartels.” Although the callers have the name of the student, it is not clear whether they know which school the child attends, she said in a statement.
The archdiocese, which covers Albuquerque and much of northern New Mexico, did not want to name the schools that were involved, spokeswoman Leslie Radigan said.
Police in Boston last month issued a similar alert regarding three such incidents at public schools in that city.
This scheme has the hallmarks of the persistent “grandparent” scam in which a caller claims the grandchild has gotten into trouble and is being held in a prison in Mexico, Turkey or wherever.
Such crimes hinge on fear and immediacy, giving the potential victim little time to think things through clearly and to double-check their relative’s whereabouts.
As the archdiocese alert put it: “Stay calm. Scammers feed off panic and uncertainty.”
The alert also tells parents to demand to speak with their child and ask a question or two that only he or she would know.
It says parents should contact local police if this happens to them. They can also contact archdiocese school officials by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (505) 831-8124.
Here are some other tips for parents:
• Do not give out any credit card or other personal information.
• If another phone is accessible when this happens, try calling the supposedly missing relative. Also, try the police or FBI, which can provide guidance in real time.
• Gather as much information as possible, such as the phone number and any distinguishing sounds such as accents, particular phrases used and background noise.
• In general, do not post news of upcoming travel dates and locations online.
• Have a “password” that family members can ask for in an emergency to confirm that a loved one is really in trouble.
• Discuss virtual kidnapping with family members before anyone travels.
A text twist on porch pirates
Waiting for a package and wondering why it hasn’t arrived yet?
That’s what scammers are banking on when they send a text claiming your delivery has been suspended. They tell you the address listed is incorrect, and that you need to provide a new one by going to the link they provide.
One big clue this is bogus is it appears to come from “USP” rather than “UPS,” United Parcel Service.
A couple of people who have received this text say they realized it was fake when they went to the website given, only to be asked for payment.
Contact Ellen Marks at email@example.com or 505-823-3972 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.