Family warns of kidnapping scam that started with call from unknown number

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – A South Florida family says they were recently targeted by a terrifying kidnapping scam, WPTV reports.

Katie and Steve Watson live in Coral Springs, and spoke out to warn families about the crime.

Katie told  WPTV that she received a call on Monday from a number she didn’t recognize. On the line, she heard a whimpering child and then a mysterious man, who said he had kidnapped Katie’s daughter, Chloe.

"All of a sudden, a man's voice came on the line, and he said, 'Katie I have your daughter. She's in the back of my van,'" Watson told WPTV on Tuesday.

Katie said she quickly hung up, feeling in her gut that it was scam.

"That's really part of what gave me the chills -- was somebody calling me by my name," said Watson. "That was unsettling."

Katie said she figured it was a scam, but then got a bad feeling when she checked her daughter’s location through her phone's GPS. It initially said her daughter was at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, which Chloe attends, but then the GPS suddenly jumped to another location in Parkland.

Upon further investigation, she found that her daughter was indeed at school, and more importantly, safe.

"I got chills all over my body and I was like, 'OK, I know that was a scam, but that's like every parent's worst nightmare is to hear your kid has been kidnapped,'" said Watson.

The FBI called this a virtual kidnapping scam, and said it’s evolved over the years and become more sophisticated.

In the calls, a crook says he’s kidnapped your loved one and demands money in exchange for their safe return.

In the Watsons case, however, the scam was taken to a frightening new level with the use of a whimpering child on the line.

The FBI offers these tips so you don’t become a victim:

"In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone. If you do engage the caller, don’t say your loved one’s name. Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family. Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone. If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place, contact your nearest FBI office or local law enforcement immediately."