TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — A family in Taylorsville received a terrifying phone call from a man who said he kidnapped their seven-year-old daughter.
The call turned out to be a scam, but police say it is significantly more aggressive and elaborate than most.
The scammer even pretended to put the girl on the phone, instantly scaring mother Meghan Garfield and father Christopher Cook.
“When we answered it, we could hear a little girl who was crying and saying, ‘Daddy! Daddy, help me!’" Garfield said. “It makes me cry every time… We didn’t think it was (real), but on the off-chance that it was, it was just terrifying.”
Garfield pulled out her cell phone and started recording a couple minutes into the conversation as the scammer asked for money.
“You have my daughter?” she asked.
“Yes! That’s why I put her on the phone in the first place!” the man yelled. “You obviously heard her! What else do you want? Do you want me to cut off a couple of her fingers and send them to you? So you know that I’m not ****ing around?”
“What are you going to do?” Cook said. “You’re going to cut off fingers of an innocent little child?”
“Understand I have her ****ing life in my hands!” the scammer yelled. “I have her life in my hands! Why the **** would you risk her life? … Call the school and see if she’s there!”
Eventually, Garfield took the scammer’s advice. She told Cook to stay on the phone while she called their daughter’s school.
Within minutes, she had her daughter on the phone.
“Oh, I burst out in tears. I stayed calm talking to her because I didn’t want to scare her, but after that, I just lost it,” Garfield said. “It was an absolutely terrifying scam.”
The family said that even though they knew it wasn’t their daughter, they were still concerned because they heard a young girl’s voice on the other line. They weren’t sure if the voice came from a recording or from a different little girl being used to help the scammer.
Either way, Garfield felt compelled to call police.
“I asked, 'Do you want the phone number? Do you want any of the recordings? Do you want anything?'” Garfield said. “'Oh — I can put the number in the file for you,’ (the officer responded.) To me that was very unsatisfying... He said there’s really not much they can do.”
Sgt. Melody Gray with the Unified Police Department said Garfield did everything right, but there is likely nothing the department can do about this case. In many cases, police say the scammers put a fake number to display on the recipient’s caller identification.
“These are so common, each individual one is not ever investigated,” Gray said. “The reality is these people are probably not even in the country. Tracing it is next-to impossible.”
Detective Ken Hansen with the Unified Police Department described the call as significantly more “aggressive” than usual.
“There’s going to be a little bit of a trace every time there’s a phone call, but it’s going to take a lot of technology and time,” Hansen said.
Garfield said she thinks scammers have become more aggressive because they know law enforcement agencies have stopped pursuing individual cases.
The family shared the scammer’s phone number, which had a country dial-in code from Mexico. When FOX 13 tried to call the number, we received an error message saying the number had been disconnected.
“If they can’t do something locally, then they need to forward the cases to the FBI instead of telling us to just deal with it,” Garfield said. “He’s definitely done it before… To be told to just deal with it, it’s really not fair.”
The family said they don’t believe their seven-year-old daughter fully understands the situation because she is young and has special needs. They’ve tried to turn the situation into a learning experience about "stranger danger."