Virtual Kidnapping


You get a call late at night and the caller ID says it is from your grandchild. It’s frequently late at night so they can catch you when you are half asleep and groggy. You don’t recognize the voice though. The voice is that of an agitated, high-strung man shrieking ultimatums for money and making threats of violence. He appears to have both your grandchild and their phone. The “kidnapper” demands money or they tell you your family member will die. This is a scam.

In the old days, before cell phones or the internet the scammers used to call on the phone and say they were your grandchild and they had been arrested. They would then say they needed you to send bail money so they could get out of jail. But technology has changed things.

The person on the other end of the line is ranting and raving the whole time. They say they are going to kill your grandchild unless you pay a ransom fast. A wave of disbelief washes over you. You know your grandchild is away at school, attending college in another state. Could something have happened? He demands that you go and get a money gram to send to them or you will never see your grandchild again.

You might not notice but they won’t use your grandchild’s name. Not only are they trying to extort money from you but they are on a fishing trip to get the name so they will sound more legitimate.

The FBI calls this crime “virtual kidnapping.” Hackers will gain access to someone’s cell phone contact list and then use the phone number masking technology called “spoofing”.  With caller ID spoofing, people can make it seem like their phone calls are coming from whatever phone number they want, even your grandchild’s phone.

“This is the next level,” said FBI Special Agent Doug Kasper. “This is a high pressure call that has instant impact. The ability to spoof phone numbers is what makes it so instantly scary.”

Kasper said this scam is the most recent advancement in phone and social networking scams being perpetrated by criminals. Kasper said the FBI is continually shutting down these lawbreakers in the United States but they keep popping up elsewhere.

“They grow more sophisticated all the time, but on our side is that the consumers are also getting more sophisticated in recognizing them,” he said. “The key for the victims is to slow things down, control their emotions.”

The FBI doesn’t have national statistics on virtual kidnapping because most victims report the crime to just the local police or don’t report it at all. The FBI thinks this scam is still widespread so they are asking people to report these calls.

The scammers probably dial lots of possible victims every day hopeful to get success on at least one. They most likely keep calling until they come across one person that can’t reach their loved ones and panics. The deception is probably a “high volume” scam that succeeds often enough that it is profitable for the scammers.

Here is how to avoid falling victim to a virtual kidnapping. Ask them if you can talk to “Bill” and beg them not to hurt Bill, knowing full well you are not related to anyone named Bill. When they say you can’t talk to Bill you will know they aren’t telling the truth. Catching them in a lie early on will ease your mind and give you the advantage.

Try to call the alleged victim on another phone or utilize some other method like texting or even instant messaging to contact the person who has supposedly been kidnapped. If you are traveling with the purported kidnapping victim but you are not with the person right then, you might want to call the hotel where they are staying and ask them to perform a “Welfare Check” if you think they might be in their room.

Ask for proof from the supposed kidnapper that they have possession of the purported victim. Ask for a current photograph or video of the person that they allegedly kidnapped. Most cell phones have a camera that the kidnapper could use to verify if this is a scam or not. Proof of possession can help differentiate between actual kidnappings and virtual kidnappings.

Check the caller ID to see if the caller is dialing from a location that is where the victim was last known to be. If the scammer is not using the supposed victim’s phone, you can challenge the person calling to call you back from this cellphone. Keep in mind though that the phone number may be spoofed.

Report to the FBI or local law enforcement without delay and inform them of any virtual kidnapping attempt and provide them with as much evidence as you can. This might include the phone number that the call came from if you still have it. You should also file a statement with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at

Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport.


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You’ve most likely noticed that beards are in and the plaid shirted, beard wearing male is now fashionable. I have sported a variety of beards, side burns and mustaches over the years and I am now finally in style. Woo hoo!  I have had my current beard for over 10 years. These days, the unshaven look once saved for mountain men and lumberjacks is seen everywhere from boardrooms to billboards to fashion magazines. I have lived through several cycles of beards and can tell you beards are not going to dissapear soon.

Growing a beard will transform the way you look. Just like dying your hair purple and yellow might raise a few eyebrows, having a beard also defines people’s impression of you. People will look at you differently and you will also feel different. When I met my wife I sported a counter culture, bad boy, Hippy Dippy goatee. That was a part of my look, a part that would soon change. She asked me to shave before I met her parents. What we do for love.

Just like the hair on your head protects your scalp from getting sunburn (ask any bald guy), facial hair provides protection for your chin, cheeks, and upper lip. If you get a tan and then shave you could have a paler “beard shadow” which is the reverse of a five o’clock shadow. This shows that your beard protects your skin from sun damage and could protect you from skin cancer.

A study by researchers at the University of Queensland shows that having a beard reduces your facial UV exposure by about one-third, compared to a clean-shaven face, and the ultraviolet protection factor ranged from 2 to 21. This means that a beard protects you from ultraviolet rays that would hit your face. Free sunscreen!

I now am back to the goatee I wore as a teenager when I met my wife. It’s white now without any red in it and it is a little less thick. I call it my “cancer beard” and vowed to not shave it off until I was pronounced cured of cancer. Trim it, sure but not shave it off.

The average male spends 3,350 hours standing in front of a mirror, scraping a sharp, metal blade across his face during their lifetime according to the New York Times. No matter how close or how often, you shave, your beard grows back a little bit every day.

When it comes to tracking trends, research has shown that a good, healthy beard makes a guy seem more attractive to the majority of women right now. According to Psychology Today, studies have shown that men with beards are generally regarded as more masculine, dominant, and socially mature. They are also usually regarded as more responsible, older, fatherly figures.

The next time I grew a beard was when I was in the navy. We were on a Mediterranean/North Atlantic cruise. We were allowed to grow beards on this 6 month cruise. As I think back on it, it probably was a morale builder. We would hold “Longest beard” contests and “Ugliest Beard” contests. We would also hold a “Best Moustache” contest.

Men who live and work in cold environments like Western New Yorkers do, frequently seem to grow big, bushy beards. That’s because having the extra layer of insulation that a beard provides helps keep our face warm. I appreciated that extra layer of insulation while my ship was in the North Atlantic.

If you are terrified of making it through your next Western New York winter without freezing your face off, then fall and winter is probably a good time to grow a beard. The best time to sport a bushy beard would seem to be in November. Sprouting a beard at this time will help promote cancer awareness and will support all your “No Shave November” friends.

Unfortunately, researchers have discovered that beard growth tended to hit the highest point in the late summer, predominantly in August and September, by November it is decreasing, reaching its slowest speed in January and February. Even your beard doesn’t like to go out in the winter

Beards might make you look all rugged and rough, but under their crude surface there is frequently a smooth, silky baby face. This occurs because growing a beard can actually protect the skin underneath from aging, according to the tabloid Metro. A beard, by blocking sun exposure, results in fewer wrinkles, fewer liver spots, and so on.

The other thing that keeps your face so smooth under your beard is your sebaceous glands, which are always at work keeping your skin moisturized and oiled up, according to Business Insider. People touch their face a lot, so you’d normally be rubbing this oil off pretty regularly, but not if you have a thick beard protecting your face and thus preserving your skin’s oils. So having a beard today might make you look older, it could also make your skin look younger in the future.

I now am back to wearing my teenage goatee. However it is white now, not red and a little sparser. I call it my “cancer beard”. I vowed not to shave it off until I was pronounced cured of cancer. I will trim it, sure, but not shave it off.

Norb is a freelance journalist from Western New York.


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I swear that ninety percent of the young people I see are wearing torn, ripped and distressed jeans. Some ripped jeans look as if they’d lost an argument with a giant cheese grater. Others look like the wearer was going to turn their jeans into shorts and got bored with the project. There are the people who look like they had been dressed by Edward Scissorhands and some of them have what looks like mud painted on the jeans.

Levi Strauss is founder of the first factory in the United States for the manufacture of blue jeans in the 1880s. They were called “waist overalls” back then. He died on September 26, 1902 in San Francisco at the age of 73. He is probably rolling over in his grave.

Jeans are made of a tough fabric and it takes a lot to wear them out. This is why they have always been working apparel favored by manual laborers, farmers, and factory workers. They got worn, torn and beat up through overuse and were often associated with blue collar employees. I used to wear jeans at work and every pair was riddled full of holes from welding and being splashed with caustic soda. When I was attending welding school, my worn, frayed jeans actually started on fire.

Then in the mid-1970s, the Ramones burst on the scene wearing torn jeans. We just thought they were broke and couldn’t afford new jeans. But it turned out it was the uniform of the punk movement and later, grunge. A defiant, anti-establishment statement, torn jeans were seen as a sign of rebellion, but today, when everyone and his grandad are wearing them, it’s more a sign of sheep-like conformity.

“He’s really ripped,” used to be a compliment when applied to a taut six-pack upper body. Now, it just means he’s wearing damaged trousers. I’ve been living in jeans since the 1960s when we used to call then dungarees so I suppose it’s not unexpected that we looked for new ways to wear them. And it’s not often you see 1960s bell bottoms any more, unless you are a deadhead. Sensible folk would say, OK, if you want ripped jeans, why not buy an ordinary pair of jeans and cut them up? At least that’s creative.

GQ, the men’s magazine, published a satirical guide on how to rip your jeans yourself. It described three “effects”. Holes, which should not be more than an inch wide. Shreds, where the fabric is torn but threads remain and finally, scrapes, fabric that is lightly grazed like you hit it with sandpaper. But all that is done for you now for a price. You can now buy shredded jeans but twenty percent of them are air.

The designer labels love boldly shredded legs. Balmain has a pair for $1144.59, Dolce & Gabbana’s are a steal at $555.85 and Gucci, instead of confessing it has battered them to oblivion, calls them “pre-loved, with a vintage feel”, all for a paltry $1124.75. (Prices from

However, unless you’re an anorexic, celery-eating carb-phobic, bits of flesh will bulge through the gaps and some of it should not be seen in public. Often you can see a person’s underwear or worse through the holes. It’s not very flattering. (I apologize if you’re eating.)

Unless you’re in a hip-hop band from Detroit, you have probably progressed from the low-slung jeans that revealed your Calvin Klein boxers to jeans missing some of their fabric. At least we aren’t seeing someone’s butt. If you can afford Calvin Klein boxers maybe you could afford pants that fit or at least a belt. This is another fad I don’t understand. I suppose that this distressed jean fad is just a tad better than that.

I think the clothing fads in my day were much better, like tie dye, miniskirts, bikinis, and girls without bras. God I miss girls without bras. I used to tie dye everything, in fact when I was discharged from the Navy, I tie dyed my dress white uniforms. Another fad of my day was bell bottoms. The Navy also provided me a good supply of bell bottom jeans.

Ripped jeans are popular with both men and women today and it is leaving its mark on wardrobes around the country. Those comfortable shorts and jeans that I own that need a “haircut” every time I wear them are now fashionable to my wife’s chagrin. Fashion is always changing and improving. Just because something wasn’t popular in the past, does not make it trashy in the present.

Granted, there is a time and a place for all fashion trends. Knowing this, it would be not wise to wear ripped jeans to a job interview. Although you may believe that ripped jeans make you look hip and stylish, your prospective employer may have another point of view.

In the name of all that’s holey, (pun intended) haven’t we had enough of this trend? I think the time that we dress like we are wearing worn out or oversized clothes has passed.