The calls all follow the same pattern: Your loved one is in trouble; send money, or else. The terrified victim wires hundreds or thousands of dollars to free the family member.
But there was never any danger.
The scam has been around for years, but after last week’s arrest of two Springfield residents accused of extorting $1,000 from a Revere mother by claiming her daughter was being held at gunpoint, police in five cities and towns are examining past cases for indications of similar scams by the pair, and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley is warning people to be on alert for suspicious calls.
“We see cycles of these things. They’ve been going on for a while,” said Steven DeMarco, deputy police superintendent in Cambridge, where police have received 41 reports of kidnap scam calls over the past year. “It is pretty wide[spread].”
On Jan. 16, Revere police arrested Jose O. Carrasquillo, 32, and Jennifer Rodriguez, 30, and charged them with extortion by threat of bodily injury, the district attorney said.
A man allegedly called the Revere mother in December saying that her daughter, who was away at college, had been in a car accident with his cousin, a violent fugitive. The fugitive, he said, was holding her daughter at gunpoint, and would shoot if the woman did not wire $1,000 to Rodriguez.
Surveillance video footage later obtained by Revere police at two locations where the wire transfers were received allegedly showed Rodriguez and Carrasquillo picking up the cash.
“The investigation suggests possible links to similar scams in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett, and Lynn,” Conley said in a statement. “Whether these defendants were acting alone or as part of a larger enterprise, they followed a pattern we’ve seen several times over the past few years.”
Carrasquillo and Rodriguez were arraigned last Friday in Chelsea District Court, where the judge imposed $5,000 bail, Conley’s office said. Rodriguez made bail Sunday, according to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department; Carrasquillo remains at Nashua Street Jail.
A spokesman for the district attorney said at least eight kidnap scam reports across the five municipalities have “direct and specific” links to the Revere case and Springfield defendants: three in Boston, two in Brookline, and one each in Cambridge, Lynn, and Everett.
“People need to know, they need to be aware,” said Everett police Sergeant Detective Larry Jedrey, who is investigating two kidnap scam calls reported in January. “People are being put through quite a dramatic scenario thinking that their brother, cousin, sister, or whoever is being held captive until you send them whatever amount of money they’re looking for.”
In one report that bears a striking resemblance to the Revere mother’s experience, one of the scammers told a woman her brother had been in an accident and was being held hostage by his cousin, a fugitive, said Jedrey. The caller demanded $1,000, but the woman said she did not have the money.
Across the state, authorities say they periodically get panicked calls from residents afraid for their loved ones’ safety. “We were plagued with it over the last year here,” said Springfield police Sergeant John Delaney, adding that the department has received more than a dozen such scam reports over the past year.
“One day I was in the hall of the police station and this woman with her children was crying. She was speaking broken English. She had her cellphone in hand and said, ‘My husband’s been kidnapped,’ ” he said. “I knew right away it was a scam.”
Many scam calls come from out of state, police said. In Hingham, where a young man was targeted last weekend by a scammer who claimed to be pistol-whipping his brother, Sergeant Steven Dearth said police often call scammers back, and can hear phones ringing and people in the background talking in different languages.
“Imagine that they’re sitting in a room in a different country calling hundreds or thousands of people an hour,” he said. “If a couple people per hour wire them a couple thousand dollars all over the world, that’s profitable.”
Most people do not end up wiring money, because the scammer’s story falls apart when they are asked for details about their hostage. Police advise anyone who receives a ransom call to immediately try to contact their relative and to involve the police.
One scammer made the mistake of calling the wife of a Lynn police officer and demanding ransom for her husband’s safe return, said Lynn Lieutenant Rick Donnelly.
“She was kind of keen to those kind of calls,” he said. “She told whoever was calling that they could keep him.”