CLINTON, Iowa (WQAD) – Dozens of parents in the Quad City area are receiving disturbing phone calls concerning the safety of their children. Scam experts say it’s all a trick to get your money and information.
Driving around Davenport a few dozen miles from home, Eugene Kopp remembers getting a call he will never forget.
“A guy came on the phone. I thought he was a policeman, EMT or fireman,” said Kopp. “Then he says, “We’re not a policeman or EMT, we are drug dealers. And your daughter caught us dealing drugs, so we snagged her. If you want her back it’s going to cost you.”
The man on the other end of the phone told Eugene he was holding his daughter hostage.
“She was crying. I knew something was wrong. That was the scariest part, thinking she was hurt,” said Kopp.
Convinced his daughter needed help, Eugene followed every order. He drove around and made two money transfers from a Western Union at a west Davenport grocery store for a total of $900. The caller never lets Eugene hang up for five hours straight.
After Eugene tells the man $900 is all he has, it’s over.
“I drove to my daughter’s house to see if she was there,” says Kopp.
She was there. She was safe. This was a scam.
It’s called the Hostage Hoax, according to scam expert Randy Meier from Clinton County’s Seniors vs. Crime unit.
Meier has taken more than a dozen reports of this scam in four days. He says right now, Clinton County is being targeted.
“It’s verging on hysteria,” says Meier.
Scammers are playing mind games, extorting people for whatever cash they can get.
“As hard as it might be, you’re going to have to take a deep breathe and start to think,” says Meier.
Meier says the caller will always try and keep you on the phone.
“Hail somebody, flag somebody down if you really think you can’t get off the phone. Have someone else get on the phone. Have somebody else call law enforcement,” says Meier.
Eugene says that wasn’t possible for him, though.
“I’m in the car alone. There’s no chance to call anybody,” says Kopp.
And even though he questioned the call at times, the risk was just too great.
“The one percent chance of it being true, I wasn’t going to take that chance,” says Kopp.
And if it came down to it, for his daughter’s safety, he’d do it all again.
“If a guy was sitting next to me saying, Gene, that’s a scam, don’t do it, I’d still do it,” says Kopp.
Meier says with all the reports coming in, he has been able to gather some details about the callers. He thinks it’s one group of at least three people making them. He says the money transfers he’s been able to track down are going to Mexico City. He’s also collected phone numbers and has some names, but he says those could be fake.
The FBI is weighing in in this, too.
They say if you find yourself on the end of one of these calls, follow directions, but always ask to speak to the crying woman. Ask specific questions pertaining to the person the caller claims to have hostage like the make and model of their car to test if it’s real or not.
And do what you can to try to contact the person they say they have hostage whether that’s from another phone via text message or on social media. If you do get in contact with them, it could give you the confidence you need to hang up.
Another concerning part to all of this, Meier says the caller wants money and information from you. They try to get you to tell them details about your family members. In some cases, if you’re a target, it’s likely another one of your family members will be next after they learn specific details about them.
If you get one of these calls, report it to police right away.
In the past week, there have been more than a dozen reports to Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, at least one report in Bettendorf, Iowa and one report in Rock Island, Illinois.