A Lancaster mother is warning other parents about virtual kidnappings – a scam in which callers falsely claim to have kidnapped a child and then trick the parents into paying ransom.
Sheratan Johnson was at home when her cell phone rang last Thursday.
The voice was a man with a slight Spanish accent, she said.
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“I’m like, ‘Who is this?’” Johnson remembered in an interview Friday.
“We have your daughter in our van,” the man said. “We kidnapped her. This is about a kidnapping, OK?”
Johnson said she was in shock.
Last she knew, her 10-year-old daughter was safe – in Midlothian at a gymnastics class.
She feared her daughter had somehow been abducted.
Johnson, a corporate recruiter, has her phone set up to record incoming calls from numbers she doesn’t recognize.
The story was first reported by NBC 5's media partners at The Dallas Morning News.
"I'm only going to ask you one time, are you interested in helping her out and saving her life?" the caller asked.
Johnson's voice grew increasingly frantic.
"Yes, but I need to know…" she said before the man cut her off.
“No, no, no, shut up and listen,” the voice said. “Listen, pay attention. Do you think it's necessary for me to cut off one of her body parts and send it to you so you can realize who it is? Do you think that's necessary?"
"That was so scary, and I was like, 'No sir, no sir,'" Johnson said in the interview.
The caller told her to get in her car and drive and not hang up or she'd never see her daughter again.
He even had her honk one time so he knew she was really in her car.
"I'm driving around, really frantically, just hoping and praying that, you know, a police officer would see me and stop me," Johnson said.
"How much money do you have? How much money can you get wit in 30 minutes so I can help you out and let your daughter go?" the man asked.
He directed her the nearest ATM, where she withdrew $140, and then to a nearby check cashing store.
With him still on the line, she wired the money to a bank in Mexico.
"He tells me to get back in your car, you've got to get more money," she recalled.
But by then, she had managed to get in touch with her ex-husband, who found their daughter, perfectly safe, in her gymnastics class.
They finally realized it was a hoax.
She hung up the phone and was soon reunited with her daughter.
"It was a huge relief, going from thinking, 'Oh, my God, I'm never going to see my child again,' to 'Oh, My Gosh, you're here, you're really here. You're alive!' I was very, very, very grateful at that point."
Two years ago, the FBI issued a public warning about the increase in virtual kidnappings.
Among the bureau’s suggestions: Stay calm, ask to talk to your child, and ask a question only the child would know the answer to.
In Johnson’s case, police are investigating.
But she doesn't hold out much hope the suspects – likely in Mexico – will ever be caught.