It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Imagine receiving a phone call from a stranger who claims to have snatched your child. The voice on the other end threatens harm if you don’t comply with his or her demands. What do you do?
A few UT parents were forced to answer that very question this past weekend when they received anonymous phone calls claiming their student had been injured or worse, kidnapped.
According to investigators, in the past six weeks, parents and grandparents of at least four UT students have received calls from an individual demanding the family wire money overseas for medical expenses or ransom. The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force have gotten involved, joining campus police in the investigation into the suspicious calls.
During the two most recent incidents, which occurred over the weekend, the caller claimed that students had been injured in a car accident. Two earlier calls, one in early July and the other dating back to June, claimed that students had been kidnapped.
But no UT student has actually been kidnapped or harmed, according to Capt. Julie Gillespie of the University’s police department.
Still, UTPD is asking all parents to be on the lookout for callers claiming to have kidnapped their UT student.
“We’re trying to alert UT parents, grandparents, and family members of students to make them aware that this is occurring,” Gillespie says. “If called, they will be able to determine if it is a hoax or not.”
Gillespie advises parents to remain calm and ask to speak to their loved one. She urges parents to challenge the caller by asking for specific information regarding the child’s name, attributes, and location.
The “kidnapper” only has the upper hand if parents believe harm is being done, Gillespie says.
If possible, parents should write down the caller’s phone number, though so far the numbers have been masked or false. UTPD isn’t sure how the caller is getting parents’ phone numbers.
Parents should steer clear from agreeing to transfer any money or disclosing any personal and family related information.
UT is asking any recipients of calls to contact local law enforcement officials, in addition to UTPD at 471-4441.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Michael Melchiorre.