Wilson County Sheriff’s Office warns of scam calls involving kidnapping claims

WILSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A disturbing scam is making rounds in Middle Tennessee, and it’s especially concerning to parents because the scammers claim a child has been kidnapped.

In just the last two weeks, multiple people have gone missing in Middle Tennessee. While many are hoping for their safe return home, unfortunately, scammers are using this as an opportunity.

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So how does it work?

The Wilson County Sheriffs Office (WCSO) posted a Facebook alert, warning that the scammers reach out to potential victims, claiming a child related to the victim has either been kidnapped or severely injured.

“A lot of times they’ll demand money and say that they’re looking at your house, or say they’re under observation or surveillance until they go and make a wire transfer or something like that,” said Capt. Scott Moore, public information officer for the WCSO. “Given the circumstances that you see within the Middle Tennessee region of missing children, it’s just very alarming.”

The scammer will even go as far as to put what sounds like a child on the phone to help make the plea. The scammer then asks for the victim’s location, which police said is an intimidation tactic.

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“In this particular situation, they used a voice over IP. There’s several apps out there that people can use. It’s kind of like spoofing. When the number pops up, it’s not the real number that comes from the owner or the person who’s calling,” said Moore.

Number spoofing and voice alteration have become more sophisticated with artificial intelligence, according to Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

“What we’ve seen of artificial intelligence is the ability to crunch a bunch of data, say from a data breach or social media. They know who knows who, who lives with who, related to who, who’s on spring break in Florida, and use that data to pose very believable scam calls,” said Murray. “There aren’t too many people who don’t have at least a snippet of their voice out there on social media, in a video, even on your voicemail outgoing message, and use that to create a voice that seems like the person’s real voice.”

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Local law enforcement said it’s important to know what to do if faced with a call. First, contact your local law enforcement agency.

“Then you can call the principle, the school resource officer, the teacher if it’s supposed to be a school day, and if it’s not a school day, if they’re hanging with their best friend or if they’re with their grandparents, to contact them to make sure that you child is safe,” said Moore.

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