‘Like my worst nightmare:’ Husband retells scammers’ ransoming of his wife
An Anchorage man who was called by phone scammers claiming they had kidnapped his wife Thursday said he lost all the money in his bank account, during an elaborate ploy which targeted both him and his spouse.
The man, who didn’t want to be identified because he and his wife were still terrorized by the incident, shared his story Saturday with KTVA because he wanted to keep others in the community from being misled.
Anchorage police said the man had been the victim of a “brazen” version of a familiar scam, in which callers usually claim to be police or utility workers and threaten to serve an arrest warrant or disconnect service unless they’re paid off. In Thursday’s case, the scammers had modified their caller ID to appear that they were calling from the victim’s wife’s phone.
The victim said he had been at work at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, when he got a call from what appeared to be his wife’s number but only heard dead air when he answered. He tried to call her back, but his attempts went to voicemail.
“Finally I got a call back from what appeared to be her,” the husband said. “I heard what I could have sworn was her voice, followed by someone yelling at me that we have – basically we have your wife, if you don’t do exactly what we say we are going to rape and kill her.”
The callers warned the husband to not contact the police, although he soon resolved himself to contact help.
“I grabbed the [office administrator] there and I was still on the phone so I said, ‘Please don’t kill my wife’ in front of her, so I kind of communicated the situation that I was in pretty clearly,” the husband said.
The callers told him to go to the nearest grocery store with a bank in it. That bank was the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, inside the Midtown Fred Meyer department store on Northern Lights Boulevard. The husband said clearly, so his co-workers could hear and relay the information to police, that he was heading to Fred Meyer. Then he drove to the store. On the way, the callers asked how much money he had on deposit.
“I didn’t have that much in my bank account, so they demanded that I pull everything out of my credit card,” the husband said. “When I was in line at the bank I went to a teller and I wrote on a flyer: ‘I’m being robbed, they have my wife, they’re going to kill her.’”
Staff at Alaska USA began to communicate with the husband in writing as he remained on the phone with the scammers, telling him they had contacted APD. He was ordered to cross Northern Lights on foot and buy gift cards at the nearby Walgreens pharmacy, so he said he was heading there and left.
At the Walgreens, the husband again explained his situation in writing to a manager, as the callers continued to play “mind games” with him.
“The manager there wrote back that I was probably being scammed, and at that point that thought hadn’t occurred to me – but I had heard enough initially to make me believe,” the husband said. “That part was over. I knew I was going to get robbed, I knew they were going to get everything I had, and that was fine – I just wanted my wife back.”
On his way out of the Walgreens, several police officers arrived at the Walgreens and met with the husband, still on the phone with the scammers. He read them the card numbers and online usage codes for the cards he had bought, and the scammers told him to buy more of certain Visa gift cards at the Fred Meyer.
On the way back across Northern Lights, officers told the husband they had reached his wife and that she was safe – but asked him to keep the callers on the line.
“I started reading out cards, trying to stall as much as possible,” the husband said.
“Finally I was really beginning to lose patience, so I said started asking them: ‘I want to speak to my wife, I want to speak to my wife – I’m not doing anything else until I speak to my wife.’ And at that point they hung up, and the ordeal was over.”
Later, he learned that the scammers had also contacted his wife, issuing a separate threat to her to keep her phone line busy. He declined to discuss what that threat was, but that it involved her safety.
“They called her first with a scam leading her to believe that if she tried to contact anybody else there would be severe consequences,” the husband said. “In fact, when I tried to call her, they had her on the phone threatening her to not answer the phone – or else.”
Police have asked him not to say how much money the couple lost, but he said it constituted “the entirety of what we have in our bank account.” He hasn’t received anything back.
“I withdrew the money myself,” he said. “I basically robbed myself.”
Neither he nor his wife recognized any of the people on the phone, according to the husband.
“They were very aggressive,” he said. “It was more than one person, it was several people – she spoke to several people on the phone who were more progressively aggressive.”
In retrospect, the husband said, he might have tried texting his wife’s phone to let her know what was happening. By Saturday afternoon, he said, “the shock’s wearing off and the anxiety’s setting in.“
“I had a situation that I believed was absolutely real; it was like my worst nightmare,” the husband said. “I can’t think of anything, any position I would rather not be in than hearing that my wife is no longer in the world, that she’s going to be taken away from me.”
Michelle Tabler, Regional Manager at Better Business Bureau (BBB) Alaska, says these types of kidnapping scams have been reported in California, but this is the first case she's heard of in Anchorage, where scammers had this level of information.
"Normally they're random phone calls, where they're threatening. They don't necessarily have all the information," Tabler said in a live interview on KTVA's First Take at Five Sunday. "In this case, they had the wife's phone number."
Tabler advises anyone who gets a similar call to try texting the person allegedly being held for ransom.
"Take a deep breath, and if this is all about money, it's probably a scam," Tabler said.
For more information from the BBB on this and other scams, click here.
Liz Raines and Scott Gross contributed information to this story.
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