KPRC 2 Investigates: New twist in virtual kidnapping scam for ransom

A frightening new phone scam is tricking people into sending hundreds of dollars to thieves. Police are calling it the “virtual kidnapping scam.”

HOUSTON – A frightening new phone scam is tricking people into sending hundreds of dollars to thieves. Police are calling it the “virtual kidnapping scam.” Our KPRC 2 Investigates team has the details you need to know so you don’t fall for it.

You’ve probably heard before about phone scams that prey on the elderly and grandparents. But this one flipped the script when 25-year-old John Schaudel says his phone rang late one night and his caller ID showed it was his mom.

“So I just heard some crying on the phone. Then some man’s voice came on and he basically just said, ‘I escaped from jail and I have your mom hostage,’ essentially,’” Schaudel said.

As the crying continued in the background Schaudel said the man demanded money.

“My family is not helping me out. I just need some quick money. If you Venmo me, I will basically just walk away right now and leave,” he explained. “I thought this guy was gonna beat up and kill my mom.”

Son scammed out of money via Venmo after a caller pretends to hold his mom hostage. The thief spoofed his mother's phone number, so it appeared the call was coming from her cellphone.

With the man on the line, Schaudel texted his father, an HPD police officer, trying to let him know his mom was in danger. He texted his younger brother, “Mom has been kidnapped. Wake up, dad!” But when the man on the phone grew more angry and irate, he did what he asked.

He sent $900 by Venmo to protect his mother. Seconds later, he got a response from his brother.

“My little brother texts me and says, ‘I just checked in. They’re both in their bedroom. She’s not getting robbed.’”

The money was gone. Meanwhile, his mom had been safe at home and asleep.

“I was like, ‘What? Of course, I’m okay. I’m home. What’s going on?’” said Wanda Schaudel.

“I’ve never gotten scammed before. And this guy was so good,” said John Schaudel.

Spoofing numbers, using payment apps

The thieves are spoofing the phone numbers of loved ones, meaning it makes the call look like it’s coming from someone you know.

Investigators said if you get one of these calls there are a few things you can try and do.

  • Demand to speak with your loved one.
  • Ask questions only your loved one would know the answers to.
  • And stay calm. These scam calls work so well because the thieves are creating a sense of panic and urgency.

When it was all over, John’s overwhelming emotion was a relief.

“I told my mom I would pay $1,000 every day to not have you have to go through that experience alone,” he said.

“I just didn’t want anyone else to fall for this and the pain that my son had to go through and that our family had to experience. It’s horrific!” said Wanda Schaudel.

It is not clear exactly how the thieves connected John’s phone number with his mothers to be able to pull this off, but some experts think they get a lot of information from social media. Venmo did refund John’s money. It may be because he reached out to the company so quickly to report the scam.

If this happens to you, you should take screenshots of your payments and report it to the payment app and your bank ASAP.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.