Montgomery County Public Schools sent an email to parents on Wednesday warning of an extortion phone scam which has been taking place throughout the county.
The email from MCPS reads, “In the last week, multiple MCPS families have been targeted by what is known as a virtual kidnapping scam. The scam begins with community members receiving a call from an unfamiliar number, often from an international area code. When the call is picked up, community members have reported that they have heard screaming sounds in the background and a message from the caller claiming that they have the person’s child and intend to do the child harm unless ransom is paid.”
According to Derek Turner, the scam has been around for a number of years but had resurfaced again starting three weeks ago with parents of students from Damascus High School and Clarksburg High School receiving the alarming phone calls.
“The reports started about three weeks ago at the end of January or beginning of February with one or two parents receiving the calls,” said Turner. “Those parents immediately called the schools to make sure their student was safe. Then, over the next few weeks parents started calling us from throughout the county to know about the scam.”
Turner said MCPS then realized that such calls could be affecting hundreds of parents throughout the county. “It was important that we prepare them and inoculate them to this call so that they don’t wire money and don’t panic. We thought sending out this letter would be the best way to give the entire community an inoculation to the scam,” said Turner.
This is not a new phenomenon. In May of 2016, the Archdiocese of Washington sent a letter to parents of students in its schools warning of a similar scam.
In December of 2014, Montgomery County Police warned the community of a similar scam, at that time police said that telephone scammers often use a technique called “spoofing” to manipulate and provide a fictitious number to a Caller ID display.
MCPD offers the following tips on what to do if you receive a telephone call that you believe is a scam
Do not provide information over the phone. Scammers often ask leading questions to retrieve information from you. Often, you do not realize that you are giving them valuable information.
Scammers create a sense of urgency. Slow down and ask the caller for detailed information and a contact number. Tell the caller you will call them back. Then, attempt to verify the caller’s story by calling family and/or friends.
Remember that scammers often use a technique called “spoofing.” Spoofing provides a fictitious number to a Caller ID display.
Do not send money.
Most importantly, contact police immediately if you believe you are a victim of a telephone scam.
According to MCPD spokesperson Rebecca Innocenti, MCPD has received a number of calls in recent weeks from parents who have been on the receiving end of these hoax kidnapping phone scams.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article indicated that MCPD had not received any calls from parents who had been victims of this scam, however MCPD continued to investigate and discovered that in fact, a number of calls were received from parents regarding this type of scam. Germantown Pulse has corrected the story.