TAMPA, Fla. — A local woman is warning others after a scam call she said seemed all too real.
Kandy Garrett doesn't usually answer calls from unknown numbers. But one day in November, she said she was waiting for a call from a nurse after her husband's surgery. So when she got a call from a number with letters included in it, she still picked up.
"I'm expecting the nurse, and it's my daughter's voice crying, saying 'mom I've been in an accident,' and it's my daughter's voice and I hear a little bit of shuffling then a man answers the phone.
He goes, 'your daughter was in an accident. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have your daughter. She's in my partner's car. She just cost me a lot of money,'" Garrett said.
She said the caller demanded money if she wanted her daughter and noted the type of shop her daughter had started working at.
"He said, 'I'm with the Mexican Mafia. I will cut her up and, awful word, pieces and spread her all over the country.' And he proceeds to yell and cuss and scream at me. So I'm like 'okay, what do you want me to do?'" Garrett said.
Thinking only of saving her daughter, she said she held up a note to the nurse saying 'my daughter's in danger, I gotta go,' and followed directions.
"Who leaves their husband in a hospital? That's how real it was," she said.
She said the man threatened her daughter's life if she hung up, and despite his violent and explicit language, she stayed calm as she drove for around an hour, even trying to flag down law enforcement in the process.
She said she ended up at a Suncoast Credit Union and wrote a note there.
"I said, 'I need to make a withdrawal, my daughter's held hostage,'" she said.
Garrett said while she was still on the phone, the team at the credit union managed to get her daughter on the phone and helped stop her from losing thousands of dollars.
"I picked up the phone and it was my daughter. And she said, 'mom, what's going on?' I about fell to my knees. It was the most horrifying thing I've ever been through," Garrett said.
"We came together as a team, and our system worked," said Yudith Rodriguez-Ochoa Fernandez, a member advocate with Suncoast Credit Union.
She said they advise members to check their balances every day, and if a situation doesn't seem right, to reach out to them and not give their personal information over the phone.
"Fraud is on the rise, so we see this more often than we would like to, but we just always ask the members, and we always try to coach them in regard to their financial literacy," she said.
The FBI said they see virtual kidnapping calls regularly, which play to people's emotions.
"These calls are incredibly believable. These alleged hostage-takers will go to great lengths to put stress on the individuals that they're talking to by having people screaming in the background, they will do their research," said FBI Special Agent Ashley Haynes.
Haynes said, don't be afraid to call law enforcement if you get one of these calls.
She said to look out for calls from a number you don't know, with an out of area number. She said the individual may try to keep you on the phone, demand money and demand it now.
"First and foremost, stay calm. Secondly, give no information about yourself, your family or loved ones. Third, try to get that loved one on the phone, ask the person to ask the hostage-taker to speak to your loved one," she said.
Haynes said if they refuse to put your loved one on the phone, ask a question only that family member would know, try to buy time and that you can hang up but try to schedule the next phone call.
You can learn more about this scam from the FBI here.
Suncoast Credit Union also offers tips here.
"It's that real. Don't fall for it. But when you love somebody that much, and you're that scared, who knows what you'll do. Look what I almost did. But thanks to the people at the bank, I still have some money in the bank. My daughter's fine, and I'm fine," said Garrett.