A police officer was driving down a highway when he got a phone call from a number he did not recognize. When he answered, he heard the unfamiliar voice of a woman screaming. Another voice broke in to tell him that unless he transferred money to the callers, he would never see his daughter again.
"They specifically threatened to put a bullet in the back of my child's head," the officer said.
The Texas woman alleged to have been the mastermind of that call -- and dozens like it -- has been arrested by the FBI for her involvement in what the federal agency calls "virtual kidnapping for ransom."
The 34-year-old Houston woman has been formally charged with more familiar crimes, however: one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 8 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money, the FBI said in a statement.
The maximum possible sentence for each charge is 20 years in federal prison.
Officials said the woman and her co-conspirators are scammers who would contact victims by phone and tell them that their daughters had witnessed a crime. And if the victims didn't transfer to them, the daughters would be harmed.
"This is not a victimless crime," said a woman who received one of the calls. "I'm surprised I didn't have a stroke."
Those facing severe federal punishments for drug crimes, violent crimes, weapons offenses or on other allegations should talk to an experienced Edinburg criminal defense attorney before speaking with a prosecutor.