Woman says she was tricked in pretend hostage scheme
A Providence woman named Janette said before last month, she considered herself a pretty 'tough girl,' but says the confusing, terrifying events of March 21 have changed that forever.
"I got a phone call on my cell phone at about 1 p.m. The man started saying, "Your father has hit a really expensive car and damaged it, and I want my (deleted) money? I want my $2,000.'"
"And then I'm like 'Wait a minute, what are you talking about?'" she said.
"Then he said, 'Well your father tried to call the cops because of the car accident, but my brother is a fugitive, so what we did ma'am, is that we had to hit your father with a gun over his head." Then said, "He already has a huge gash across his face," and that they would shoot him if I didn't get the money to him right away'" Janette said.
Janette said, to make matters worse, she received the phone call from the man trying to blackmail her while she was at work.
Having been instructed 'not to hang up,' the mother of a 2-year-old baby girl said she was scared and horrified.
So, she ran out of work, and a friend followed her, offering to take the wheel. That's when the young mother then began doing whatever she could to make a deal with her father's alleged abductor.
"He said I couldn't be with anyone, that I had to be alone, but my friend ran after me, and she actually was the one driving the car, so this whole time I'm writing notes to her and telling her to 'be quiet' because I didn't want my father to get shot," Janette said.
In the end, the young woman said she was so scared, that she went to a nearby Western Union location immediately, and attempted, not once, but twice, to wire the money to the two names she was given, 'Elizabeth Perez Pardo,' and 'Jorge Reyes,' both in Puerto Rico.
"I was actually completely blown away, because I didn't think this would ever happen to me. And I thought if anything like this happened, that I would have known it was a scam," she said.
Thankfully for Janette, there was a problem with the scammers Western Union account in Puerto Rico, and money didn't go through.
Right around that same time, Janette's helpful girlfriend was able to contact her boyfriend to tell him what was going on.
Meanwhile, Janette was still on the phone with the alleged abductor.
And while the two were still negotiating, and working on a backup plan, which was to meet in Rhode Island to exchange the cash for her father, Janette's boyfriend was able to locate her father, who reported being "just fine."
And that's when Janette realized she'd been taken for a scam.
"The man heard my boyfriend who had met us at the meeting location saying 'Stop. Your father is OK. Hang up on him, it's a scam,'" she said.
Janette said when the con artist on the other end of the phone heard that he yelled and hung up the phone.
The money was never successfully wired to Puerto Rico, and Western Union returned all of the cash to Janette.
The only money the young mother is now out is the overage on her cell phone bill. She said that's because she was on the phone with her father's alleged abductor for four hours.
Janette also had to take two weeks off from her job to deal with the investigation and the terrible anxiety she's been feeling ever since the ordeal began.
The woman spoke out about the scam as a warning to others.
"I thought they (the man on the phone) knew my name, but I actually said my name, so that's how he knew it. And when he said the accident was on Manton Street, I said, 'Is it my father?' and he agreed 'Yes, it's your father we have with us.' So it seemed totally believable because my father does landscaping in that area. It made sense. But really that's how he knew it, because I said it. I don't want anybody else to do that. I don't want this to happen to anyone else. It doesn't even matter who you are, or how much education you have, this felt real, and they were threatening to kill my father," she said.
Janette said she feels foolish, and she wants others to learn from her mistake.
"I basically got played thinking that I wasn't going to get played, and I did," she said.
Because the incoming number had a Connecticut area code, and because the alleged suspect on the phone did agree to meet Janette at the Roger Williams Medical Center to pick up the cash in person, the victim does believe at least one of the members of this possible con artist team could be fairly local, but so far there's no way to be sure.
Janette said she reported the incident to Providence police.
NBC 10 did reach out to Providence police, but police said it was unclear as to whether the department had investigated this particular case. However a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Attorney General's office told NBC 10 that it had confirmed Providence police were investigating the potential scam.
The attorney general's office said anyone who encounters a similar scam, should immediately call their local police department.