Monday, April 26, 2010

Mexico Tries To Tackle "Virtual Kidnapping"

On a Saturday morning this February, Rosario Garcia picked up her cell phone and heard the sound Mexicans have come to fear most: the scream of a loved one in trouble.

"Mom, help me! Something horrible has happened," said a voice so like that of her 33-year-old daughter that Rosario was sure it was she.

"Paula, is that you?" she asked, panicked.

"They have me in a car. I've been kidnapped," answered the voice. Then a man came on the phone.

"If you don't give us what we want we're going to kill your daughter, Paula," he said. As he spoke, Rosario could hear what she assumed was her daughter pleading for mercy in the background.

Then she heard something else, something impossible.

"Dad, help me!" the woman said. But Paula's father had died years before. The girl on the phone wasn't Paula. The kidnapping was a fake. Shaken nonetheless, Rosario hung up.

Experts say that since the practice began nine years ago, as many as 20 million Mexicans like Rosario have fallen victim to such "virtual kidnappings" - an effective extortion technique in a country where real kidnappings are a common occurrence. The procedure is simple: a phone call, a scream and a plea for help, and a demand for money or financial information before a bewildered parent even has a chance to check on the child...