Dad tells harrowing tale of virtual kidnapping scam

LYNDHURST, NJ (WABC) -- The FBI calls the crime "virtual kidnapping," and it's a scary scam authorities are saying is on the rise. It leads you to believe a loved on is in immediate danger but is cleverly designed to empty your wallet.

At least half a dozen cases have been reported across Bergen County in the the last few months, and 7 On Your Side spoke to one of the victims.

It was two harrowing hours of sheer torture for Bret Torppey, who was called at his office, told that his daughter was in a basement with gang members, and ordered to get them some cash fast or else.

The caller was explicit, aggressive and believable.

"He said, 'I want $3,000,'" Torppey said. "'If we don't get it, we're gonna cut her throat.'...They were like, 'Do you have a daughter who works in Newark?' And I'm like, yeah. And they were like, 'She just had a car accident outside our house.'"

His eldest daughter, in fact, had just started working in Newark. Panicking, he supplied the caller with her name, Kayla.

But the caller didn't let Bret talk to Kayla.

"I just kept saying, 'Can I talk to her?'" Torppey said. "He said, 'This is my show, you do what I say or I'll hang up right now and she's dead.' And I'm like alright alright I'll go get the money."

Torppey was ordered to go to his bank and withdraw thousands in ransom. He said the caller threatened if he hung up or he talked to someone else, he would kill Kayla. Now, in his car, Bret desperately tried to text Kayla from a different device. Eventually, he got to his bank.

"I wrote a little note to the teller," he said. "I just put '911 this person has my daughter, I need the money.' and she looked at me."

Luckily, the employee called the local police, who made sure all three of Torppey's daughters were safe.

"We assured him everything was alright and it was a phone scam," Lyndhurst Police Captain John Valente said.

And authorities and experts say this isn't a solitary case.

"It's like getting hit with a brick," security expert Adam Levin said.

He says "virtual kidnapping" scams prey on your emotion to get you to act and fork over thousands.

"They always play the odds," Levin said. "They hope that if they have a woman screaming in the background, that your wife or girlfriend or daughter is not with you at the time."

When Torrpey realized his daughter was safe, he let the caller who gave him the two-hour heart attack have it.

"Said you lousy piece, I'm gonna get you," he said. "And that's when they hung up, and that was it."

Here are the red flags. Police warn that most of the calls come from 717 and 923 area codes, and that the fake kidnappers want to keep you on the phone. They say real kidnappers hang up and don't want to be traced.

The virtual kidnappers also demand wired/pre-paid card ransom.

So if you get a call, police say you should ask to speak to victim and ask caller to describe the victim. The caller may say he or she has the victim's phone, so don't try to call, but instead get someone else to text. Finally, don't put any clues as where you work or what you drive on social media. The scammers are trolling for infomation, hoping to make their scam more believable.

Copyright © 2019 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.