Scammers carry out virtual kidnapping on South Elgin family

It's being called a virtual kidnapping. Scammers are preying on a parent's worst fears.

It carried an emotional and financial price for one suburban family.

“You need to stay on this phone, do not hang up, or your daughter's dead,” Tina Pelinski was told.

For three hours last Monday, Tina of South Elgin lived with the terrifying fear that her 18-year-old daughter Hannah had been kidnapped and would be killed if she didn't come up with a five-thousand-dollar ransom. The ransom demand was part of an elaborate virtual kidnapping scam that began with a phone call to Tina's daughter. 

Hannah was told she had skipped out on jury duty and needed to promptly come up with bail to avoid going to jail. The scammers directed her to empty her bank account, then go to a nearby Jewel to buy money cards and transfer the funds to them. She tried to stay cool.

“I started to get very emotional, and they’re like telling me, don't get emotional, you're fine, you're fine,” Hannah said.

Meanwhile, the same people called Hannah’s mom, threatening to murder Hannah and offering details to prove they really had Hannah. 

“They told me that they had the tattoo, that she had a pretty faith tattoo or a pretty tattoo under her arm, that had the word faith on it, and if I didn't comply with their orders, they were going to cut that off and send it to me,” Tina said.

The mother's employer had called police, who along with relatives were desperately searching for Hannah.

After nearly five hours on the phone with the scammers, Hannah was told to return to her bank and empty out the very last dollar in her account. And it was in that bank parking lot that her dad found her, and realized she was safe.

“I was emotional and super confused because I was like what's going on, why is my dad here, like why is he so emotional about this,” Hannah said.

The FBI says it's seeing more virtual kidnappings and recommends potential victims act quickly.

“You start making calls. You start making contacts with your friends and family. Try to get ahold of that person who's being held and find out what's really going on,” said Garret Croon, FBI Chicago Media Coordinator.

Tina says she lost almost six thousand dollars, her life’s savings, and has set up a GoFundMe account for help. She's thankful it was a virtual kidnapping and not a real one.