Smartphone-savvy scammers are pulling a new hoax on folks.
When Chelsie Gates, a TikTok user from western Alabama, received a call from her mother’s cellphone at around 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4, she answered with a cheery, “Hey Mom, what’s up?”
But to her dismay, rather than an equally gleeful response, Gates claimed she heard her mother weeping and being dragged away from the phone.
Suddenly, a mysterious man commandeered the device and threatened a now-shaken Gates, saying: “Hey, I have your mom. And if you don’t send me money, I’m going to kill this bitch.”
Gates, known on social media as @CityLivingSouthernGirl, recounted the harrowing incident in a viral advisory post, alerting her TikTok community to the latest cellphone-hacking scam known as “caller ID spoofing.”
The con allows fraudsters to “deliberately falsify the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity,” per the Federal Communications Commission. Scammers, according to the FCC, will also often spoof phone numbers of people or companies that are in their target’s local community.
In Gates’ terrifying testimonial, which scared up more than 2.5 million views, she explained that her mother works as a home health-care attendant who routinely tends to patients at their private residences. And owing to her mom’s job, Gates automatically assumed that one of her mom’s clients was holding her at gunpoint.
“In my head I’m like, ‘It’s happened. A patient has taken her hostage and this is for real,’ ” she admitted.
Gates went on to explain that the menacing male voice aggressively urged her to send him $1,000 via either CashApp or Venmo as the woman, who she believed was her mother, sobbed in the background.
“I said, ‘Sir, you have called the wrong kid. I don’t have $1,000 in my bank . . . All I have is $100,’ ” she recalled. “And he was like, ‘OK, send me that.’ ”
While on the phone with the purported kidnapper, Gates tried alerting her father to the madness via text message. But the criminal commanded her to neither hang up, call the police or involve anyone else in the conversation.
Before sending the money through CashApp, she asked to speak with her mother directly to ensure her well-being. However, Gates’ request was met with a slew of violent epithets from the fraudster.
“He was like, ‘Man, I will kill this bitch right now!’ ” she said, recounting the bone-chilling phone call.
“I was literally shaking during all of this,” confessed Gates. “[I was] imagining my mom being held hostage at gunpoint at a patient’s house.”
So, she sent the man the $100 ransom.
Immediately after receiving the funds, he ended the call, freeing Gates to call her mother’s phone to confirm that she’d made a clean escape.
“I called the number back . . . and I’m like, ‘Mom, are you OK?’ ” said Gates, reenacting her terrified call. “And she’s like, ‘What are you talking about?’
“She had no idea what I was talking about.”
Realizing she had been swindled, Gates snapped a screenshot of the CashApp handle and phone number of the scammer who victimized her and her family.
Spooked TikTok watchers were stunned by the trending cautionary tale.
“That’s terrifying. I would’ve given them every penny to save my mom,” commented one viewer.
“I would 100% fall for this! thanks for bringing awareness to it!” said another.
“This is the second story like this that I’ve heard like the EXACT same kidnapping call scam,” another penned, adding the shocked emoji for emphasis.
In November, a woman known on TikTok as @AllottaAlexis garnered 1.2 million views on a clip in which she claimed scammers had spoofed her phone number and called her stepfather threatening to rape and kill her if he failed to send them $1,500.
Separately, a man who had just dropped off his 27-year-old daughter at the airport for a trip to New York City last month claimed he received a call from her phone demanding $1,500 in exchange for her life.
In both instances, the scammers successfully received payoffs from the panicked parents.
In Gates’ case, a number of curious commentators wondered how the trickster was able to imitate her mom’s voice. To that repeated query, she responded, “This guy must have researched how my mom cries [because] it sounded JUST LIKE HER CRY!!”