While he was in the Harford County Circuit Courthouse Wednesday morning, Bel Air lawyer J. Paul Krawczyk received a phone call that his wife had been kidnapped and the caller was demanding money for her return, the Bel Air Police Department said.
Police said the call turned out to be a scam by someone trying to extort money, and Krawczyk's wife, Pat, was found safe at her work.
"I didn't think it was a scam, because I really thought that was Pat crying," Krawczyk said Wednesday afternoon.
Krawczyk, a retired police officer, said he spoke with a woman on the other end whom he thought was his wife.
"I couldn't calm her down, she was just crying hysterically," he said.
But it wasn't his wife.
They asked him how much money he had in the bank, but they never put a dollar amount on the ransom, Krawczyk said.
"The scam is they don't let you get off the phone. They keep you on the phone and get you to wire money or pay with pre-paid cards," Sgt. Jim Lockard, of Bel Air Police Department, said. "They don't want you to hang up because you may try to contact police or your loved one they said they kidnapped."
In this case, Krawczyk stayed on the phone with the scammer and walked down to the Harford County Sheriff's Office security station at the courthouse, he said. The deputy who was there got the basic information of the phone call and contacted Bel Air Police.
"Once our officers got over there, they started an investigation. They found out what was going on, got the wife's phone number and were able to eventually locate the wife at work," Lockard said.
Once he found out his wife was OK, he breathed a sigh of relief, Krawczyk said. A few times, he added.
The incident lasted 15 to 20 minutes, Lockard said, from when Bel Air Police were notified to when Krawczyk was able to verify his wife was OK. He was on the phone with the scammer the whole time, Lockard said, and an officer stayed with him.
"That's a long time to be on the phone if you think your wife's kidnapped," he said.
"While they're on the phone, the scammers try to talk the victim into sending money, explaining the situation, what could be done to the victim, threatening him," Lockard said. "It's general coercion, threats."
Krawczyk was fortunate to be in a public place, Lockard said.
"If he's at home and keeps them on phone, they raise their probability they'll get something," Lockard said. "Here you have a victim who thought very quickly and the deputy responded very well to the situation and did precisely what should have been done."
Krawczyk said the officers and deputies who responded "were amazing."
"Every officer knew what to do. They were unbelievable, calm, cool, collected. You know, the whole thing," he said.
Police were still investigating Wednesday evening.
Phone numbers such scams come from are "extremely difficult" to track down, Lockard said. He's seen them traced to the Dominican Republic, England, "all over the place." They're Google phone numbers that are created online.
Krawczyk said anyone who gets such a phone call for payment of ransom for a supposed kidnap victim should call the police immediately, "because they know exactly what to do."
"You've got to take it seriously until you can prove it wrong. My advice, make sure to be able to find that person they're saying was kidnapped as fast as possible," he said.
In his case, he said, he wasn't going to give them anything without exchanging her.
Lockard offered suggestions for potential victims of potential kidnapping scams.
People on the receiving end of the phone call should ask to speak to the victim, ask how they know their loved one is OK. If they can't speak to the victim, ask for personal information about him or her. Try to contact the kidnapped person by phone, social media or text and to call back from their own phone or try to call the kidnap victim from another phone.
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Keep repeating the caller's request and tell them you're writing down their demands to bide time. Don't directly challenge or argue with the caller and keep calm and steady.