NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA) — A Bentonville mom was convinced her daughter was kidnapped for ransom, and now she’s warning other parents.
Danielle Cirillo says she’s still shaken up after the caller threatened to kill her daughter.
What started off as the sound of a cry for help quickly turned into a list of demands.
“I was like, who is this? What’s going on? It sounded like a little girl saying mommy help me, I’m scared,” Cirillo said.
This is the phone call she received at 11:56 a.m. Cirillo has an app on her phone that records all her calls.
CALLER: “Now look, I’m not a cop, alright. I snagged [her] into my car because she witnessed something she was supposed to see. Listen to me, you decide if you get her back home safe or I just simply hang up the call…This is between me and you. I’m going to hang up the call and kill [her] and you’re never going to see her again.”
Cirillo was being targeted by virtual kidnappers, and it seemed all too real.
Her daughter is in college across the country and the details lined up.
“To hear that she had been robbed and that he’s calling from San Francisco, he definitely got me and I was in a huge panic — you can hear it in my voice,” Cirillo said.
She raced to the Rogers Police Department and realized a scammer spoofed the number to trick her into sending a money wire. The caller did not have her daughter after all.
After contacting her daughter and realizing she was safe and sound, she says, “as soon as I heard her voice I just dropped to my knees crying.”
Kevin Metcalf is the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney of the 4th Judicial District of Arkansas and Founder of the National Child Protection Task Force. He says there are hundreds of reports of these types of scams every year, and they operate on speed and panic.
“The caller is going to try to keep you on the line, they don’t want you to get off your phone. They don’t want you to try to contact your child.”
If you receive one of these calls and talk to the caller, Metcalf says don’t say the name of your loved one and ask for proof. However, the best thing to do is to hang up, locate your loved one, and report it to law enforcement immediately.
“Watch your privacy settings on social media, you need to go over that. Be very careful about what you share, and go over that with your family members also,” Metcalf said. He adds that small pieces of information build up quickly, and it can easily be used against a victim.
Cirillo is still shaken up, but is using this experience to warn other parents.
“I think parents should have a family safe word so that in case something does happen like this, that they can ask that person or child what the family safeword is — and to know if it’s real or fake,” Cirillo said.
The National Child Protection Task Force is teaming up with the Morgan Nick Foundation to host a free privacy and security training for parents, teachers, and anyone in the community that would like to join.