AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — A fun day out with the kids turned into a terrifying situation for one husband in Aurora after someone called his phone threatening to kill his wife. She’s safe, but turns out the call is all part of a scam that people need to be aware of.
The Burcham family is still shaken up by their experience on Monday but relieved everyone is safe. The couple were victims of a “virtual kidnapping scam.” That’s when someone calls your phone claiming to hold your loved one hostage, even threatening to harm them, unless you pay them money immediately.
FOX31 visited the Burcham family on Monday night and they were all smiles, but hours before, the married couple was put to the test in a terrifying situation. Ryan Burcham said he took his child to Lava Island, a play zone for kids, with a few friends on Monday. But minutes into the family fun, his phone rang with his wife’s name and number on the screen.
“I get a call of a woman crying in the background,” Burcham explained. “Then a gentleman gets on the phone and says, ‘I don’t want to kill her, but I need you to send me money.'”
Panicked, afraid and confused, Burcham thought his wife was abducted and being held hostage. He said the entire interaction lasted about 15 minutes. The father told FOX31 the man on the other line was angry, using profanity and demanded $900 or he would kill his wife, Jessie, of nine years.
“I’ll pay whatever,” Burcham said as he recalled the moment. “I want her safe.”
After several failed attempts from PayPal and Venmo, Burcham said he eventually used Zelle to send $900 to an unknown name and number. He said he quickly hung up the phone and called his wife to make sure she was free and unharmed. However, to his surprise, Jessie had no idea what had happened.
“I called her and she’s like, ‘What’s up, what happened, what do you need,'” Burcham said. “I’m frustrated because I’m like, you were just hurt, and someone was about to kill you and you weren’t fine. This doesn’t make any sense.”
Unfortunately, it does make sense. The Burchams were victims of a scam that’s on the rise. The FBI is labeling it a virtual kidnapping extortion call, which is when a random person calls, threatens to harm a loved one and demands a payment.
What to do if you recieve a similar phone call
If you get a call like this, the FBI recommends:
- Stay calm
- Try to slow the situation down
- Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call
- Request to speak to the victim directly
- Ask, “How do I know my loved one is OK?”
- Request the kidnapped victim call back from his or her cell phone
- Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak and ask questions only they would know
- If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable
- While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone
- Attempt to text or contact the victim via social media
- Attempt to physically locate the victim
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand or tell the caller you need time to get things moving
- Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady
The Burcham family tells FOX31 that they’re in disbelief and don’t want others to fall victim to virtual kidnapping. Burcham says he was able to cancel the Zelle payment and get all his money returned and plans to report the incident to the Aurora Police Department on Tuesday, specifically the fraud unit.