GAMBRILLS, Md. - A terrifying scam playing out across the country is preying on the protective instincts of parents.
Scammers are calling parents claiming to have kidnapped their child and are demanding money. Even more horrifying, police said a child is usually part of the scam, posing as your son or daughter.
"When the call came through, it was her," explained Rachel Nelson, a mother of three. "And [she said], 'Mommy, I'm in trouble. I need your help. I'm in trouble. I need your help. I need your help.'"
Nelson, a nurse practitioner, was with a client when she got the call from a Falls Church, Virginia number. Nelson said the voice on the other end was a dead ringer for her 12-year-old daughter.
"It sounded like her," she added. "That is what got me because I'm like, 'My child? What do you mean you have her?'"
The man on the other end of the phone told Nelson a boy named Anthony owed them money. They were going to kill Anthony, but Nelson's daughter stepped in, begging for Anthony's life and promising to pay them.
They told Nelson they took her and were holding her in warehouse until Nelson paid them.
"[He said], 'If you don't calm down, I'm going to hang up on you and you may not see your daughter ever again,'" Nelson added.
These scammers bank on people being paralyzed by their fear, keeping them on the phone with threats, unable to call the police or find their child. Their goal is to get you to transfer money to them before you come to your senses.
Nelson didn't buy into the fear tactics. She immediately hung up and called her daughter's camp as her client called 911.
The scammers called Nelson four times trying to reel her back in.
But a few panicked moments later, Nelson got the news. Her daughter was safe. Police officers, who had arrived at her client's house, instructed the camp counselor to FaceTime in with Nelson to verify.
"As soon as I saw her, I started weeping," recalled Nelson. "I mean, I was like, 'Oh my God, you are okay, they don't have you!' It was horrible. I feel like I was in a bad dream."
FOX 5 tried calling the number the scammers used, but they did not pick up. Investigators said people will often "spoof" a phone number and the real scammers may actually be calling from another country. For this reason, they advise people also report an incident to the FBI.
"Who could do something like this?" Nelson asked. "I felt violated. I felt like, 'Is somebody watching me? How do you even know that I have a daughter?'"
Cybersecurity experts advise to be careful what you post online and keep your social accounts private. Scammers can find information through social media posts and use it against you.