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Darien parent falls victim to kidnapping scam

Updated 11:14 am, Thursday, April 3, 2014
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How to avoid a scam:
Memorize or keep a written list of family cellphone numbers that easily can be accessed if your cellphone is in use.
Do not provide family information over the telephone. Simply responding to a simple question like "Do you have a daughter?" can trigger a kidnapping scam.
Attempt to identify the location of the caller as well as the family member that purportedly has been kidnapped. The scammer may be unfamiliar with the local area.
Ask specific questions to assess the validity of the call. Asking the caller to describe your family member may prompt the caller to stop the scam and hang up.
Notify the police as soon as possible, even when instructed not to do so.
Save the incoming telephone number along with any text messages, voice mails or photographs sent by the caller.
Do not panic; this scam feeds on fear. By remaining calm and rational, you may be able to figure out that the call is a hoax.
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A Darien woman fell victim Wednesday to a pervasive kidnapping scam, losing $1,800 to the fraud, according to police.

The woman, who police described as a "loving parent" of Darien High School student, was unaware this type of scam occurs every day in the region, police said.

Additionally, police said two other potential victims reported similar incidents Wednesday, but sustained no financial loss.

The phone scam attempts targeting residents of Darien and surrounding towns are occurring at an alarming rate, police said. Law enforcement agencies around the country believe that these incidents are related and have been originating outside of the U.S. for the past few years. The Darien Police Department investigates each occurrence, according to a release.

Although the department has issued numerous advisories in recent months, the warnings in some instances go unnoticed.

In describing the scam scenario, police say unsuspecting victims receive a call from individuals informing them that they are at the scene of a car accident, then ask if they have a "child" who was driving. Panicked, the call recipients provide the details needed to pull off the scam.

The scam victims are then told that their child hit a car belonging to gang members and the child is being held against his or her will by someone with a gun. The "gang banger" demands money for the damage to his car, so the scammer instructs the parent to stay on the phone and warns not to contact the police. Police say that the scammers know once the call is ended, the parent likely will call the loved one and verify his or her safety. The caller then tells the parent to drive to an ATM to obtain a sum of money, often about $800.

To gain the victim's total cooperation, according to police, the caller may go so far as to threaten the child with torture. Once the victim has the cash, he or she is directed to meet the caller at a nearby retail location. The caller claims that the child will be released, but the bogus kidnappers don't show up. Instead, the parent is instructed to wire the money, and once the financial transaction is complete, the phone call ends.

Police say the victims attempt to call back the number, but there is no answer and no way to leave a message. The victims decide to risk calling their child's cellphone, even though the "kidnappers" said not to do so, then hear their loved one answer.

"This sickening tactic preys on parents' worst fears. It is understandable why people cooperate, especially when the ransom price is relatively low. Although parents are relieved when they learn that their loved one is safe, their money will likely never be recovered," according to police.