Dear Friends and Family,
We have a remarkable story to share with you. If it could happen to us...
To set this up, a reminder that our son lives in Georgia. He called me at 3:05PM to say hello, mentioning that he was going to a carnival with friends.
Drug dealers and scam artists. No conscious, no boundaries. Happy to hurt people. How do they sleep at night?!
At 5:15PM my phone rang, I looked down and saw a number with the same area code and last four digits of Andrew's number... odd, but I pick up.
I hear crying followed by "I'm in trouble." What happens over the next hour is simply... terrible.
I thought it was a girl crying and said "I'm so sorry, but you have the wrong number," I almost hang up when the person said, "mom, it's me" while crying.
The phone is then handed to someone. They tell me our son is in A LOT of trouble. That he's a good kid, was trying to help... wrong place at the wrong time.
Let me remind you... two hours before Andrew told me he was going to a new part of town with friends. He's a thousand miles from home.
At first, I thought it was the military police, but they want money, NOW.
The caller calls me Mom.
"Mom, mom, mom, listen to me. I can't promise Andrew will not be hurt if you hang up or tell anyone you are talking to me. Are you alone?"
All I'm thinking is... thank god Bill is home. He's outside in the yard - I have to get him on the phone. The caller isn't clear with what he wants from me, and this keeps me flustered. Is Andrew okay? This guy tells me if I call Andrew's phone they will hurt him.
Over the next several minutes the caller tells me Andrew tried to help a friend named Jon who owes them $15,000. Anthony (the drug lord) has been looking for Jon for two weeks and found him today. I'm SO confused, worried... yet something feels off. I tell the guy I don't have this kind of money, but my husband does. I'm desperately trying to get Bill involved, they don't want him involved. I'm thinking - how can anyone pay someone thousands of dollars without it be discovered?
- I make up a story.
- We have separate accounts.
- That I have access to $400 at the ATM... my husband has $15,000.
- I need to get Bill on the phone - this is all I"m thinking.
- They eventually agree to talk to Bill. They ask for his cell phone number. Tell us to turn off the phone.
- If we make a call, they WILL hurt our son.
We are standing in the yard. Bill is pacing, I'm standing, Watching. Bill talks to the guy for about five minutes before telling me to go inside. Eventually, he comes into the house, hands me back the phone and says to stay on the phone with the guy while I drive to Western Union. To wire transfer money.
What is going on?!
I'm talking to the caller again. I walk into the house while he's yelling at me, telling me to move quickly. Constant yelling - to keep me agitated.
I open the garage door, and Bill waves me back inside. He's on the phone. I step back inside and tell the caller to stop yelling. He immediately apologizes and tells me how important it is that I listen to him. Move quickly.
Bill comes into the house, takes the phone from me and hangs up.
While I was inside, he called Andrew to confirm he was okay. He was out with friends. Unaware that we were being asked to negotiate for his safety.
We called 911 to report the incident. They took down the phone numbers and told us not to worry. This is happening a lot these days. It's a scam that we should try to forget.
Reflecting back, the entire call felt odd.
In my gut - I never thought Andrew wasn't safe, but I didn't know what was happening. The person 'crying' didn't sound like him. BUT what if I hung up and something terrible happened.
Bill quickly concluded this was likely a scam but we were not 100% sure. I had innocently provided too much information: our son's name, the state he was in, and that he's in the military. Bill didn't know I gave this information which created a delay in determining if this was real, or not.
He tried negotiating with the caller. It is at this moment when he thought we were being scammed. This shifted his approach to having me occupy the caller so he could call Andrew.
Bill shares our story in a town hall meeting and learns how common this is in Mexico and South America. Three of his colleagues share the importance of having a family word. In Mexico, one family changes their family word EVERY. SINGLE. MONTH.
Last month a friend shared a different story about scammers. It's happening and we all need to be proactive.
We implore you to have a family word. Nothing shared on social media. Simple to remember. Share it only with your family. Imagine if I asked, "what is our family word?" to the caller - he would have hung up right away, and we wouldn't have had to go through this experience.
How does a mother hang up when someone says they will hurt her son? They know they have a captive audience, and play the game well.
Please protect your family with a family word. A word unique to your family.