Your Son is in Prison


This is a new scam Indonesia Private Investigation Agency has recently come across. In fact after hearing a variation on this story a few times it happened to me personally.

A couple of weeks back I got a call that woke me up about 2 in the morning. It was an adolescent and he was sobbing hysterically. His words were very unclear with noise in the background but he was obviously very upset. He was saying “mama help me”. I tried to calm him and ask him to explain what had happened.

At this point another man came on the line. This man was far more authoritative and calm. He claimed he was a policeman. He told that they had my son and he was in prison on drug related offences. The police would however let him go if I transferred money immediately. They asked for $5000.

I actually do not have a son but still it was actually very realistic. There were police sirens in the background. For a moment I actually thought that they were telling the truth and they had just called the wrong number. Even though I had heard of this scam before I still found the whole scene extremely convincing.

I played along with them and told them I could not travel to an ATM and I did not have $5000. The policeman because very hostile and a dialogue of negotiation started – prices were lowered, they also asked I do telephone banking. The issue they were most adamant about was that the transfer had to done there and then. It could not wait until the morning. Eventually the scammer became very hostile towards me and used some very foul language.

The first time I heard of this kind of scam (before my own experience) was a few months back when a potential client called me and said he had had a call from someone saying they were the police. The story was pretty much what had happened to me. The scammers told the person on the oher end of the phone that they had his daughter in custody who had been found with some drugs. The scammers then offered to release the daughter for a fee of $500.

I then heard a similar tale where the callers pretended to be from a hospital saying a child was seriously injured and money needed to be transferred immediately for medical care.

Both these attempts failed. The first attempt failed because the person receiving the call was able to verify if indeed his daughter was at home or not. The second failed for similar reasons.

This week I received yet another called by a potential client who wanted us to find some scammers. They told us the following story. Unfortunately this woman paid the money.

The phone rang and the client, a middle aged woman, answered the phone. A man’s voice spoke on the other end of the phone. The voice was anxious sounding and distraught with tears. The person on the phone only blurted: “mama, mama”. The woman then said: “John, is that you?”. Another person (or maybe not) then took over the phone and claimed to be police. The “policeman” (scammer) then said “we have your son John in custody for drug possession”. Once the woman was engaged in the conversation it did not take long for the scammer to offer to help her by saying they would release the son without legal charge for a payment of $2500. There were some conditions to this offer: the money had to be paid immediately via ATM transfer or preferably phone banking. The other condition is the woman had to stay on the telephone whilst she made the payment.  She was not allowed to put the phone down. In this particular case the payment was made.

Of course it did not take very long at all (just a half hour) for the woman to find out that her son, John, was not in prison, nor had he been. Likewise it was not long before the real police were contacted. As it turned out the police were able to do nothing. They did freeze the account where the $2500 was sent within an hour or so but by that time the money was already gone. The account emptied. The victim is of course told she must stay on the telephone during the whole process to ensure that s/he can not verify the truthfullness or otherwise of the statement. I can only presume that scammers must create the con by setting up a bank account with a false id card. In Indonesia it is quite easy and cheap (as little as $50) to get hold of a false id card. With this card anyone can open a bank account. This account will no doubt have minimal funds in it, and the moment the target transfers money this money is withdrawn with whatever other funds can be (minus the mandatory holding fee – usually a few dollars). The account is then basically abandoned and when the police track the owners they come across the false id. The scammers do not exist. They need one bank account per scam I would guess, one false id per scam. The child profile will no doubt be someone in early adulthood – old enough to be pretty much independent to some degree. I do not know the statistics here or the odds, but I would bet that if you made 20 calls to random numbers there would be a pretty high chance that one of the people answering has a child fitting the profile not at home.

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About the Author

IPIA's Director of Investigations is an Indonesian national with a Diploma in PI work (with distinction) from the UK and an Australian Government accredited Certificate in Investigative Services. She has worked on over 400 cases for private and business clients.