WESTON (CBSMiami) — City leaders confirmed Wednesday there have been eight attempts to extort money from parents in Weston through a scam meant to scare a person into paying up.
In several of the cases, the suspects claimed to have kidnapped students from Cypress Bay High School. Now authorities are asking parents to be aware of the scam and know what to do.
On at least three occasions since December, detectives say a person has called the parent of a Cypress Bay student and claimed that their child was being held for ransom.
CBS4 News spoke by phone with one of those victims. The mother said she knew her son was away from Cypress Bay at a sports competition. She was ready to take out however much money was necessary to keep her son safe.
“Various times he threatened to break my son’s neck or hurt him and he said, if you do what I say he’ll be okay but he wouldn’t let me talk to him,” said his mother.
The mother of that student quickly learned he was alright. For other parents, the scam has dragged on before they could determine their child was unharmed.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster for some of these victims,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Mellies with the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Sgt. Mellies said the city put a warning in a newsletter earlier this month to tell parents about the scam which he said dated back several years. It’s happening across the country and appears to be random.
The latest victim of the abduction hoax in Weston received a call while at work Tuesday.
“It was the sound of what I thought was my son crying. I could hear, ‘Mom,’” the woman said. She requested that CBS 4 News not reveal her identity.
Like any parent, she was frightened.
“He said, ‘I have your son. Your son is hanging around with the wrong people and they owe me $4,000,’” she said.
The woman immediately thought of the warning she saw on the city of Weston website alerting parents of the scam. She had the presence of mind to ask the caller specific questions about what her son was wearing, his age and his last name.
“I put him on speaker the second it happened and I immediately started texting my son,” she said. “He was in college taking an exam so he had his phone turned off.”
The mother had co-workers call her husband, the police and her son’s school telling them what was unfolding. She says the suspect kept her talking for several minutes. She said she had no intention of getting money for the man and at the end of the call the man cursed at her, told her her son was dead and hung up the phone.
“There was a five-minute span between your son is dead and me actually speaking to my son,” she said. “They were the longest five minutes of my life.”
She knows it will be challenging for law enforcement to catch these suspects and that’s why she believes the best prevention is education.
“When these perpetrators call an unwitting victim, that victim is armed with information and is able to maintain composure therefore we shut it down,” she said.
BSO does not believe that any parents have paid money to the suspects but they also believe many more attempts were made than they know of. They hope to catch the suspects but admit it’s a challenge. They say the calls are difficult to track and they usually come from outside of the country and have spoof numbers.
BSO says parents who get one of these calls need to stay calm, try to verify that their child is okay and not take matters into their own hands. If you can’t do that, call 911.
The school put out an email to parents a few weeks ago to warn them.
No one has been arrested at this point for these crimes but the FBI is aware of these cases.The FBI has been warning people nationwide about the crimes since at least 2015.