LAWRENCE — Deyanira Marinez was at Tenares Auto Shop on Broadway last Sunday waiting for her car to be repaired when her cellphone rang.
A man on the line gave her some chilling news: “He said my father was in an accident,” said the 25-year-old Lawrence resident. He then said that her father was being held at his brother’s house, and that unless she paid $3,000 to repair his damaged BMW, his brother could “lose his temper” and harm or even kill her father.
Upset and trembling, Marinez was overheard by an employee at the shop, who told her to call police.
Holding her hand over the phone, she said she couldn’t, because the man was telling her not to hang up but to go to a Walgreen’s, get a pre-paid AT&T card and wire the money to an account controlled by the kidnappers.
She said if she hung up without paying, her father would be hurt.
Unbeknownst to her, however, Marinez’s father was fine: He was at work and nothing out of the ordinary had happened to him all day.
Thanks to the intervention of the auto shop employee and quick action by police, Marinez did not become another victim of a scam that is sweeping through the Latino community, here and elsewhere, in which the perpetrators, usually speaking Spanish, try to get money from people after convincing them a loved-one is being held hostage.
Lawrence police say they have received a half-dozen similar complaints in recent weeks. Police in Springfield say that they received four reports of the cellphone kidnap-scam during a three-day period in early November. Similar scams have been reported in Chicopee, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, among other places. Authorities believe the scam may originate in Puerto Rico.