Hearing about it is one thing, but when it happens to you, it gets very real and kind of scary…
A few days ago the phone rang and I picked up, introducing myself with a simple “alô” (you don’t say your name when you answer the phone in Brazil, I learned that soon after I arrived here). Someone was calling collect, which I thought was kind of strange, but maybe my father in law lost his phone and needed help so I didn’t hang up.
I have to say I wasn’t really prepared for what came next…
I heard the voice of a girl on the other end of the line, and she was sobbing… “Pai, está me ouvindo, pai?” (Dad, do you hear me?). The image that I got in my head, was that of someone who just had an awful experience (like a car accident or lost a close family member), possibly in shock, and trying to call their father to talk about what happened… but, in the confusion, dialed the wrong number… which is understandable.
I didn’t answer immediately, and the girl continued: “Pai, sou eu” (Dad, it’s me), and when I (politely) said that I was pretty sure that she had the wrong number because I don’t have a daughter, the call stopped, leaving me with a feeling of: “WTF was that?”
I told my wife about the weird call and she simply said: “Baby, that was a “golpe“ (scam). WOW… so this was the phone kidnapping scam I heard so much about. Until I actually got one of these calls myself, I always felt like that kind of thing would never work on me, but now I can understand how some people get totally freaked out and end up paying the “kidnappers” serious money, only to find out afterwards that their relative was never really kidnapped.
This kind of scam has been going on in Brazil for many years, and apparently still makes a lot of victims. The fact that Brazil has a high number of real kidnappings makes it all the more believable.
Most of the time, like in my case I guess, the criminals call random numbers, and the sobbing person you hear is often just a recording, while the caller has some kind of “script” that he is working from. They count on the surprise effect, hoping that the person will panic and give away information (like the name of the “victim”) which the criminals then use in the further “negotiations”.
Other cases are more “sophisticated”. The criminals do their homework by “studying” the family they are targeting, to gather information about names and movements. At the right moment, they place a bogus call to the target’s mobile phone, pretending to be from the phone company, requesting the person to turn off their phone for at least an hour because “their phone had been cloned”.
They then call the family of the “victim”, who are made to believe their son/daughter had been kidnapped, and will be killed if they don’t pay within the hour. Since there is no way to call their loved one, have no choice but to pay up.
A lot of these criminals work from inside prisons, where they are not supposed to even have a mobile phone. the money is collected by helpers on the outside.
Have you, or someone you know, ever been victim of something like this? Leave a comment and tell me all about it.
Some other posts you might like to read…
- How I almost got shot in Rio de Janeiro
- Police corruption in Brazil – a true story
- Historical heritage in decay – 19th century coffee fazenda closed for business