LEESBURG, Va. - It all started with a phone call. A Leesburg woman was told her daughter had been kidnapped and the ransom was as much cash as she could get. It all seemed real, but turned out to be nothing but a vicious scam that convinced this mother that her daughter was in danger of being killed.
Wendy Mueller was standing at her kitchen sink inside her home two weeks ago when a number from Mexico came up on her cellphone. She didn’t think too much of it at the time because she hires a landscaper from Mexico. But when she answered the call, what she heard next sent her into a panic.
“A woman screaming, ‘Mom, I'm scared. I don't know where I am,’ and that was all I could make out,” Mueller recalled. “She was saying other things, but I kept saying, ‘Honey, can you calm down? I can't understand what you're saying.’ We went through that a couple of times and I got the same bits of information and then the man took over the phone.
"And he said, ‘We have your daughter. If you do everything, you will see your daughter again if you do everything we tell you to do.’ I started to cry and yell into the phone, ‘Please don't hurt her.’ And he was, ‘Be calm, be calm. You are not going to be any good to us if you are crying. You need to stop crying and listen very carefully.’”
Mueller said the man then told her to take her phone, get a charger and get into a car. He wanted to know how much money she could come up with. Mueller said it was one of the hardest questions anyone had ever asked her and she said she came up with the highest number she actually thought she could get – $10,000.
Then the man had more specific instructions.
"He demanded that I keep the phone on speaker the entire time, that I was never to speak to him when I was in the bank or anywhere else, that I was to put my phone right inside my purse when I went into the bank or anywhere else and that way he could hear exactly what was going on,” said Mueller. “If he heard anything that sounded like I was asking for help, then he would kill my daughter.”
She said she was convinced the woman she heard screaming in the background was her daughter and she was going to do everything she was told.
The man told Mueller he had hacked into her phone and they would know if she made any wrong turns that did not seem right. This went on for the next six hours and Mueller drove around Northern Virginia to Arlington, Falls Church, Herndon and Seven Corners where she went into different stores where she could wire cash to Mexico.
She said the kidnappers had specific demands. Each transaction had to be under $2,000 and sent to the same name and the same location.
But then she caught a break. MoneyGram had noticed some odd transactions and the kidnapper set up a three-way call. Mueller had her phone in her hand when she suddenly saw a text message come in from her daughter.
"During that part of the conversation, I quicktext my daughter and I said, ‘Are you okay?’ And her response was, ‘Yeah, why?’” Mueller said.
What went through her mind at that point?
“It was just this sense of relief and horror that I had just been put through this,” she said. “I was glad she was okay, but the realization that someone has done this to you. At that point, I yelled into the phone and I said, ‘Don't release that money. This is a scam.’ And I hung up the phone and hung up the third call.”
Mueller and her daughter are safe after this virtual kidnapping scam, which is being investigated by Leesburg police.