3 May 2008
Where real kidnappings are common, criminals can stage fake kidnappings and get the same payoff:
The phone call begins with the cries of an anguished child calling for a parent: â€œMama! Papa!â€ The youngsterâ€™s sobs are quickly replaced by a husky male voice that means business.
â€œWeâ€™ve got your child,â€ he says in rapid-fire Spanish, usually adding an expletive for effect and then rattling off a list of demands that might include cash or jewels dropped off at a certain street corner or a sizable deposit made to a local bank.
The twist is that little Pablo or Teresa is safe and sound at school, not duct-taped to a chair in a rundown flophouse somewhere or stuffed in the back of a pirate taxi. But when the cellphone call comes in, that is not at all clear.
Authorities say hundreds of different criminal gangs are engaged in various telephone scams. Besides the false kidnappings, callers falsely tell people they have won cars or money. Sometimes, people are told to turn off their cellphones for an hour so the service can be repaired; then, relatives are called and told that the cellphoneâ€™s owner has been kidnapped. Ransom demands have even been made by text message.
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