Mexican Cell Phone Extortion a Hoax on Mexican Congress

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception

Extortion hoax stuns Mexican Congress
Bogus abduction phone calls likely made by inmates
by Gregory Brosnan
Houston Chronicle
November 30, 2007

Fight on the Floor of the Mexican CongressMexico City - One by one, the shrill rings of cell phones cut through the din of a typically raucous session in Mexico’s Congress. Each lawmaker who answered got the same chilling news: A close relative had been kidnapped and that they should do as they were told.

The messages to the Mexican ruling party lawmakers turned out to be from phony kidnappers pretending to hold family members captive for ransom, giving birth to a disturbing new criminal trend.

So-called express kidnappings have been common in Mexico City for months. Victims are usually held at gunpoint for as little as 20 minutes while assailants empty their bank accounts from ATMs. Lately, though, extortion by telephone has emerged as a relatively risk-free way for criminals to prey on the public.

At least 13 deputies from the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, received the phony calls one after another during a parliamentary session on Tuesday. Each call demanded that up to $30,000 be deposited in nearby banks. The would-be extortionists claimed to be watching their victims and described clothes the deputies were wearing.

For Congress member Mirna Rincon, the shock was too much. A television camera caught her as she gripped her cell phone to her ear with a look of terror, then passed out.

Another lawmaker, Lizbeth Medina, noted afterward, “I said ‘Hello, Hello,’ and somebody screamed ‘Mom, Mom!’ about six times.” She added, “I hung up because it wasn’t my daughter’s voice.”

Authorities say the callers are often prisoners behind bars, using cell phones that have been smuggled into jail.

The extortion calls “could have happened to anyone,” Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said. “Lawmakers are not immune to this.”

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Photo: CBC.ca