NewsPinellas County


St. Pete father warns parents of virtual kidnapping scam after scammers pretend to kidnap his daughter

Officials said this scam happens 5-10 times a week across the Tampa Bay area
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Posted at 6:20 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 18:20:24-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Though he’s still shaken up, Eric Nunez said it’s important that he shares his story. The story of him being scammed by someone pretending they’d kidnapped his 17-year-old daughter.

“I’m really hoping my experience helps others identify the situation and avoid it,” he said.

Nunez was DJ-ing a wedding at the Birchwood in St. Petersburg Friday night. He said he received two calls, one from his daughter and another from a number in Mexico, he ignored them both. When he was about to call his daughter back, he got another incoming call from Mexico. He answered it because he has family vacationing there.

“I thought it could have been one of them,” he said.

It wasn’t his daughter or his family on vacation. Instead, he said it was a man calling to tell him he was just involved in a fender bender with his daughter. Nunez said the man then told him he grabbed his daughter because he had 10 kilos of cocaine in the car, and she was creating a scene.

“At that moment I had tunnel vision. I was just picturing my 17-year-old daughter with this person she does not know,” he said. “My only focus was getting her out of that situation.”

According to Nunez, the man told him to leave the wedding and tell no one what was happening. He said the man told him not to hang up the phone or call the police or, "he would hurt my daughter.”

He said things got more real for him when he asked to speak to his daughter.

“They actually put someone on the phone crying. She sounded like my daughter, and she was weeping,” he said. “He called me Pa and kept saying 'Pa I’m sorry.'”

Nunez said he started heading toward his house because the man told him that’s where he can pick his daughter up. He said, the man then told him he needs to compensate him for his time.

“He wanted $1,500, but I told him I didn’t have that.”

Nunez drove to the bank and got $600 out. He said the man then instructed him to drive to Publix on Third St. to wire the money to him. That’s exactly what he did, but the wire transfer didn’t go through the first time.

“He got more agitated, and started screaming more,” he said. “He told me to go back in and do it again, or he would hurt my daughter.”

The call ended once the money went through. Nunez said he waited for about a minute, then he reached out to his wife and his daughter.

"That’s when I realized it was a scam,” he said. “It was a perfect storm of things that came together to make it real for me, and it did."

Nunez called the police. The officer who took the report told him about the “virtual kidnapping ransom” scam, and how it's happening more and more lately.

“The criminals kind of tug at your heartstrings with family members, and grandkids,” said Detective Daniel Nettleton.

Nettleton is a detective with the economic crimes unit at the St. Petersburg Police Department. He is not working on this particular case, but he said it’s similar to the scam targeting the elderly.

Nettleton said if you get a call like this, get the person's name and phone number, hang up, do your own research, and call 911 right away.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, this virtual kidnapping scam is happening 5-10 times a week across the Tampa Bay area.

We also reached out to the FBI. According to their stats, this scam has the third-highest victims in the entire country, with over 76,000 victims. They estimate that victims have lost over $70 million from this scam in 2020 alone.

“I’m glad my daughter is fine,” said Nunez. “I hope this story will help someone else.”