A suburban mother last month was nearly duped into wiring thousands of dollars to an anonymous caller demanding ransom money for her "kidnapped" son.
It's a scam that's victimized people all over the country, and the hallmarks are always the same: a child in an accident, a wanted criminal in another car and a demand for wired money.
It was a morning in mid-February when the suburban Chicago mom got the call that her son had been in a car crash at an area gas station.
"We have your son here. It's very serious. He's been in a very serious accident," the mother, who agreed to tell her story on condition of anonymity, recalled to NBC Chicago.
The person on the other end of the line said the woman's son collided with a wanted gang member and demanded $2,000 to pay for damage to the gang member's car. The panic-stricken mother said she didn't hesitate, agreeing to wire the money from inside an area Kmart.
"If his cell phone rings, they said something like they'll pop him," she recalled. "The whole part of my brain that is rational completely shut off, and my emotional is 100 percent. ... I was just in a panic."
While she followed the caller's instructions, her husband started calling their son at home, leaving message after message.
"Chris? Are you home? Are you home, Chris? I need to know," the father's voice is heard preserved on the family's answering machine.
Minutes into the order, the story changed when Chris, who was home and getting ready for work, heard the message.
"I immediately called him back. My dad was very frantic. He told me to lock the doors," Chris said. "I got a baseball bat and sat in the closet until police came."
The police did come, just as they have in the cases around the country. In state after state, investigators say vulnerable parents often take the bait. In Des Plaines, where the Kmart associated with this family's story is located, police declined to pursue the case, saying the call originated in a different jurisdiction.
Additionally, this family ultimately didn't lose any money. But they say they have lost a bit of peace of mind, unable to shake the memory of that day.
The kidnapping scam shares many similarities to the grandparent scam, including one main mistake made by the victims: when the scammer claims to be or have a family member, relatives are urged to never offer information but instead try to verify details.