MUNCIE, Ind. – A new telephone scam in Delaware County has residents on edge, thinking their loved one is being held hostage over a drug debt. On the other end of the line, parents told investigators they heard screaming and calls for help.
"She kept saying, 'daddy, I got myself in a bad situation,' " said Calvin Gilliam.
He got the phone call on Friday. It came from a number with a 317 area code. On the other end of the line, it was a voice that sounded like his daughter, Kelci. The voice was screaming for help. Gilliam was convinced it was her and asked to speak to someone else, thinking she was being held hostage.
"This guy got on the phone. He started telling me my daughter was affiliated with another person that had taken approximately $4,000 from him," Gilliam said.
The cash was alleged debt to be paid for drugs. Gilliam said his daughter has suffered with a heroin addiction. The Muncie father said he asked the person on the phone multiple times to speak with or see his daughter. Each time, he was told no.
"He told me he was going to shoot my daughter in the head and he was going to put her in the closest dumpster and he was guaranteeing me that we would have a closed casket funeral," said Gilliam.
His first reaction was to pay the debt immediately, but the banks were closed. Gilliam struggled with finding a way to come up with thousands of dollars of cash so quickly to free what he thought was his daughter in excruciating pain.
"She was very distressed and crying and it sounded like she had been beat up," he said.
Since Friday, Delaware County Sheriff's Office deputies have received about a dozen calls with similar stories. The scammers are somehow finding ways to target families who have loved ones struggling with addiction.
"My daughter's struggled with addiction to heroin, so it made it more real thinking maybe she did get herself in a bad situation," said Gilliam.
Delaware County Sheriff Ray Dudley said the scammers are targeting vulnerable people who would do anything for their children.
"I think whoever these people are that’re calling, they know about the epidemic we’re having. So, maybe one out of every few calls they make might potentially work out for them," Dudley said.
In Gilliam’s case, after 27 minutes on the phone, he discovered the whole thing was a fake and Kelci was actually safe. He was able to use another phone to contact the sheriff’s office. Deputies immediately rushed to the house and listened to the call to determine it was a fake and Kelci was never even on the other end of the phone line. Deputies with the Delaware County Sheriff's Office are actively investigating. They take each call seriously.
"If it is real, then there’s a hostage situation going on, so your local law enforcement needs to jump on from the get go," Dudley said.
Gilliam said he's thankful Kelci is safe, but is still traumatized by the realness of the call. He hopes the person behind these calls will get caught before another family has to experience the terror.
"It was the most realistic experience. It was like something out of a movie, honestly. I thought for sure my daughter was dead," Gilliam said.
If you do get a call like this, deputies said you should:
- Write down as much information as possible
- Record the phone call
- Try to convince the caller you actually believe them in order to get details about the scam
- Don't say the name of your loved one
- Don't provide birth dates
- Don't provide addresses
- Never give your credit card or banking information
- Call police