05 December 2008

How to Avoid a Virtual Kidnapping

The other night as Erika and I were drinking mate and eating Quinoa chocolate chip cookies, we got a strange phone call. Erika picked up and this guy starting talking to her in rapid-fire Spanish about how there had been an accident on Santa Fe + Callao, and how one of the victims gave him our phone number, and wasn't this the address of Luciana Rial at Gorriti 5733, and who was he talking to, was she Luciana, no, she wasn't, who was this, did she know anyone involved in car accident, no? And then:

--So what is your name?
--Why do you want to know? LB asked.
--We need it for our documents.
--It's Ana, she said, lying.
--And do you live alone?
--No, I live with my boyfriend.
--What's his name?
--Why do you want to know that?
--He might have involved in this accident.
--He's working right now.
--Does he take a taxi or drive?
--No, he takes the Subte
--Well, there were some pedestrians involved too in this accident
--He's working right now.
--I don't know, someplace in Microcentro.
--You don't know where he works exactly?
--No, I just know it's somewhere in Microcentro.
--What's his full name?
--Why do you need to know that?
--Just to make sure he wasn't involved.
--He wasn't, she said, looking at me.
--What's his name?
--Luis, she said, lying again.
--Why don't you give me you cell phone number and I'll check and see.
--I don' think so.
--Okay, then hold on, let me get a detective on the line.
--I'm hanging up, she said.

We were so confused. But the next day, after talking with my students, I learned the following things:

1. These kinds of calls are actually common in Buenos Aires. One of my student's mothers got a call from some dude with a mafioso voice saying "Dondé está Francisco?" Like a smart, superstitious woman, she hung up the phone.

2. They are trying to solicit information to be used later on, probably for a virtual kidnapping. A VK is when criminals, armed with the names of tenants living in an apartment, call them up and say something like "I have Luis, and if you want to see him again, bring a 1,000 dollars to Café Almargo or you'll never see him again." Of course it's a lie, but many people are so freaked out they don't bother to check until later on. Once they get you to a café, then they can either really kidnap you, extort an incredible amount of money from you, or ask you to buy 50 phone cards to call the "prison" where you virtual boyfriend is being detained.

3. Now LB and I understand why we've gotten these strange people buzzing at our door before:

--Quién es? A strange man asked.
--Para qué buscás, LB asked.
--No, who is this? He continued.
--No, who are you looking for, she said again.
--Who am I talking to?
--Who are you looking for?

And then he'd disappear afterwards.

So, the morale of the story is, don't tell strangers personal information, because it will be used against you later on. Also: remember when you thought Porteños were paranoid? Turns out they're just scared. And if you have any sense, you'll be on your guard too when shit like this happens.


Leigh said...


That is nothing short of fucked up. Ick.
Love you.

JACKSON BLISS @ 水と魂 said...

I know, right? Ah the charms of the third world. Love you too LM. How's pdx?

Jimmy Danko said...

Craziness. Thanks for posting this Jackson. Good stuff to know.

JACKSON BLISS @ 水と魂 said...

No worries JD, how you feeling? Yeah, be careful with those dataminers, they're clever little fuckers. But now you know brother. Now you know.

D. said...

hey, I'm porteño. Don't worry, don't be afraid cuz that's a random call by phone from a jail. They havent your name, neither your address, absolutely nothing. Also my mother had the same experience one year ago, but my sweet mother said him " you die in jail !"

JACKSON BLISS @ 水と魂 said...

Hi D.

You´re probably right, but what really freaked us out at the time, is that this guy HAD our address, AND he knew the name of our landlady. In all likelihood, they probably have a list of property with the name of the owners, or they just looked it up in the white pages. They didn´t have our names--still don´t--but they knew where we lived. Fortunately, there are 30 apartments in our building and 60 tenants living there so at least there´s some anonymity.

LB and my theory is that they probably looked up the names of people who appear to own a lot of property, assuming they´re rich, not realizing that many people have property, or rent apartments, under their name, but they sublease their property to other people.

Still, even the fact that this story isn´t that unusual in Argentina, is, on some basic level, scary.Uñmately, I think we´ll be okay.

Lety said...

My father was virtually and personally kidnapped. The real life kidnapping was the "express" type so he came back home after six hours. The virtual kind has been common in the last six/seven years. I believe that this creative criminal activity was initiated in jails.

Frank.Sugar&Spice said...

It´s nice to see how you two are learning how to cope here. You are doing great. I wrote about my brush with these virtual kidnappers/extortionist as well. The post is called "Small Time Crooks".

JACKSON BLISS @ 水と魂 said...

Lety + Frank,

Thanks for writing. L., it's amazing how common it's becoming. I've heard the same thing too about how it all started in prisons. There's an article on Frank's blog that talks about that. I'm glad your dad's okay. F., I read your blog entry and laughed. You probably pissed them off, but for scaring the crap out of people, and all just to make some money.