Thursday, April 27, 2017

PSA: Beware of virtual kidnapping

This is a public service announcement to every mom out there: Evil is real.

Many moms live with this boogieman in their heads that makes them fear every little thing that can happen to their kid: run over by car, fall out of tree, drown in pool, stabbed by child holding scissors wrong.. I know, I get it. I'm not a worrier by nature, but kids do that to you. They take everyday life and turn it into this massive obstacle course where a unsliced grape could mean life or death.

A heightened state of awareness. Parental awareness.

For what it is worth, I consider myself pretty laid back. My parenting style is what I would deem modern free range. I want my kids to play like I did in the 1980's, but I am trying to avoid being reported to CPS, it's a balance and an art. Anyhow, I disgress.

I was reading The Shack. A Word to the wise, this is a wrenching book. A father's wrestle with God after the abduction and murder of his daughter. The absolute worst kind of parental nightmare that exists.

I'm just gonna put that right here. Conjure up the worst, and The Shack is pretty much it.

I was reading The Shack on my flight to Portland last Monday. I debated whether this was a smart choice as I was flying away from my family on a week long business trip but my mom had recommended it. I also knew this book would suck me in, and the time would go faster.

I was right. I was enraptured. The book is captivating. Cue embarrassment as I cried on the plane (and the plane from Portland to Denver, and Denver to Indianapolis....)

As I glided down the airport people mover in PDX, I mentally noted in my hypothetical text to hubs: "Happy to report, Portland is still weird." As we texted, he said he was going to pick up the kids.

The Uber driver and I engaged on a random conversation about horses, polo, dog training and psychology. Uber, always an adventure.

Then my phone rang. Glancing at it, I didn't place the number. Against my better judgement and only cause the number started with a 5 (and Portland area calls are 503, so it could have been my local attorney), I answered it.

For a couple of seconds it was dead air.

"Hello? Hell- O?"

Then muffled crying and whimpering. Seconds passed, but it seemed long.

"Who is this? Who IS THIS?"

More crying... "Mommmy...."

"Who is THIS?"... "XJL is that YOU?!"

"Mommy.... Mommy, it's XJL (sounded more like "Cindy" or "Sandy")...

Then a man with a deep baritone came on the line:

"Mam, I'm sure we can come to some accommodation."

At this point my Uber driver has pulled off the side of the road. Every nerve in my body was standing on end and every pore was screaming PANIC. I didn't know what to do.

And then my finger, almost with a mind of it's own, hung up the call. Done. Swearing, mumbling...

I texted Erik: "Is XJL with you?"

No response. My mind raced. He could be driving. Sometimes he doesn't text back immediately. Call him? No time. My mind raced.. and raced.. my heart and my mind were sprinting each other.

I told the Uber driver to take me to the Marriott. In seconds, I was there, and I rushing into the lobby. I called my brother-in-law who is good at answering his cell phone and lives within minutes to my kids school and my house. Answer he did, and within minutes, he was heading to the school and my sister to my house.

Then Erik texted back: "Yeah, I have her. Why?"

Poor Hubs, then my sister showed up at the house, and he still had no idea what was going on.

The whole situation diffused within 5 minutes. But wow... the panic, the fight or flight, the dread, the fear... the thought - "Did I just hang up on my child?"... it was unreal and yet, all too real.

I checked into the Marriott. Afterwards, with the hair on my arms still standing up. I asked the nice gal behind the desk: "Do you have kids?"

"I want to!"

Poor gal. I told her my story.

Told her I think I needed a glass of wine.

After I debriefed with Erik and my heart stopped racing, I reported the incident to the non-emergency police in Phoenix. I also looked at the number again - Mexico country code. I also googled the scam, and apparently, "virtual kidnappings" are a thing.

It is my duty to tell you all. Lest this should happen to you. Virtual kidnappers want you to stay on the line. They want you call them back. They want you to go to the bank and wire relatively small sums of money.

This is in contrast to real kidnappers who do NOT want to stay on the phone and demand sums of money that you can't just go to Chase and withdraw from the ATM. At least, I can't.

As I replayed the whole thing over and over and over again.... I gave them the name... but consider the circumstances, I am a mom of girls, I'm away from home, and reading The Shack.... sooooooooooo not funny. The rational side of me knew something was off - the name, even in distress, XJL would know how to pronounce her name... and stories of recent scams preying on seniors... but WOW, the emotion. Two very serious forces were at conflict with each other in my heart and mind.

I gotta give it to Charlotte P. at the Marriott City Center. She came thru in spades. She called my room later on and asked my wine preference. Red, of course. A bottle delivered gratis to my room. Thank you Marriott. You've got a faithful customer now.

So be warned mommy-friends. There are sick people out there. People who do want to take your kids, and others who want to take your money preying on your fear of those who will take your kids.

Hug those little tonight.

And if you are going to read The Shack, do it at home.