Brazilian Inmates Terrorize, “Kidnap” and Kill by Phone

    Brazilian jail

    Brazilian jail Brazil's latest creative contribution to crime comes from inside Brazilian prisons. It's the dial-a-kidnapping, a swindle in which an inmate sometimes in cahoots with someone outside the jail calls a victim telling they have kidnapped a child or a spouse and they might kill them in a few minutes if their demands are not met.

    This con game and its variations have become so widespread and has caused so many victims some of them fatal – just last week 67-year-old Mércia Mendes de Barros from São Caetano do Sul, in the Greater São Paulo, died from a heart attack after receiving one such call – that the criminal practice landed this week in the cover of Brazil's most widely read weekly news publication, Veja magazine.

    Veja calls the new variety of crime another evidence of the Brazilian government's ineptitude, showing its inability to stop illegal actions and crimes even inside prisons.

    According to the weekly, the dial-a-kidnapping has become an epidemic. Just last year, close to 10,000 people from the capital cities of São Paulo, Rio, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Brasí­lia, went to the police to report that they had been a victim of the sting.

    It's believed however that there are at least four times more cases than those that were reported since many people don't even bother going to their police district.

    In the case of the old lady who died, a man called her phone saying that he had abducted her son and threatened to kill him if she didn't pay 60,000 reais (US$ 29,000). While the husband went to the bank to withdraw the money the woman had a heart attack.

    A neighbor who was helping her to negotiate with the fake kidnapper was able to contact the son on his cell phone and found out that it was all a hoax. But by then Barros was already dead.

    "I had heard of this scam," said José Pereira de Barros, the husband, "but panic takes over when you get a call like this. We were attacked and assassinated in our own house – by phone." 

    The kidnapping scam started five years ago in the Carlos Tinoco da Fonseca penitentiary in Rio. In its original version people would receive a call from an inmate with the news that they had been awarded prizes like television and DVD sets. To get the award the lucky winner had to buy pre-paid minutes for cell phones and pass the caller the codes.

    In those more innocent times the goal was only to keep the cell phones inside the prison cells working so prisoners could talk to their friends and relatives outside jail. Today, more than 90% of this kind of scam continue coming from prisons although by law inmates are not allowed to have phones. 

    According to Veja there are three main ways of scamming people with the dial-a-kidnapping.

    In one of them, the scammer pretends to be a fireman or a highway patrol officer. He informs the victim that there was an accident and suggests that someone badly hurt may be the victim's relative.

    At this point, the swindler knows nothing or very little about the victim and expects he or she will blurt something out due to psychological strain. When the victim says the name of a child or spouse the officer or fireman becomes a kidnapper who starts to threaten his target.

    In another script, the inmate calls usually before dawn in order to hit the victim when he or she is still sleepy and not entirely conscious. "Mom," or "Dad," the voice says. "They caught me." In order to make sure that they are talking to the son, the parent will say something like: "Is that you, João?" That's when the caller or an accomplice announces that João has been kidnapped.

    Still, in a third version, the con artist says that he has been hired by a victim's foe to kidnap and kill him (her). In this case the inmate works with someone outside jail who follows the person and learns about some of his habits and even his home address and the schools his/her children go to. The scammer then says that he will not kill the target if he pays a certain amount.

    For more implausible that these stories might seem, 20.5% of those who received such calls ended up being swindled, according to a study from São Paulo's DEIC (Organized Crime Investigations Department).

    Why do Brazilians fall so easily for these scams? Kidnappings have become routine in large cities like Rio and São Paulo. Although abductions and quicknappings, in which people are forced to withdraw money from an ATM machine at gunpoint,  have fallen by 60% in São Paulo and 70% in Rio since 2002, they are still very common. Just last year, 1148 people were victims of a quicknapping and 62 others were taken into captivity in the city of São Paulo alone.

    Another explanation has to do with the psychological torture inflicted by the con artists. They say they have caught a child or a spouse. As psychiatrist Eduardo Ferreira-Santos told Veja, "These are people with whom we have the most profound affective ties."

    "The possibility of losing them makes people enter what we scientifically, call conscience field narrowing." Individuals faced with such a situation are immersed into a state similar to hypnosis.

    Some of the techniques used by the swindler are to talk fast, to call in the middle of the night when people are sleeping with diminished capacity to think and ponder and to give the impression that he is not acting alone but with a group of other people.

    Veja publishes de transcripts of several conversations between a con artist and his victims made by the police. 

    In one of them we can hear what undoubtedly is the voice of a man saying in tears: "Mom, I was robbed." The woman who answers the phone doesn't even notice this is a male voice and answers: "You've been robbed my daughter?" And then calls her by name. That's when the scammer gets to the script part in which he says that the daughter – and now he uses her name – will only be released after he gets what he wants.

    A business man who fell for the scam told the magazine that he became so nervous when he got the call that he not only gave the con artist his daughter's name, but also his home address, his phone numbers and his cars models.

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    • Eats Wombats

      Dugo dugo
      And the Philippine version, known as dugo dugo, is to telephone the home and tell the maid that the boss is in hospital after a road accident and to come at once with money or valuables. Immediately!

    • Ric

      Keep it Quiet
      Tim is right. Most people in the know will avoid reporting any kind of crime if they can, it just complicates life and doesnÀ‚´t really help matters. If that skews the statistics, thatÀ‚´s the fault of the system, not the victim.

    • Bob

      Bo, yes Thaddeus likes to tell lies but you’re way off with Iraq. It’s a country with six times less people than Brazil and it’s deaths are those only reported by the media – in other words a gross underestimate.

    • bo

      [quote]As Camaragibe, which has 181 murders per 100K is right in line with the death rate in Iraq! [/quote]

      Sorry, was wrong there!! Camaragibe’s death rate of 181 per 100K is in line with [b]Baghdad’s[/b] death rate!! Iraq’s is MUCH lower than Camaragibe!

    • bo

      [quote]About 45,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the invasion of their country by the United States in March 2003. In 2005 alone over 55,000 Brazilians were murdered in a non-declared civil war that has been ravaging Brazil for years.

      According to just-released data by Brazil’s Justice Ministry more than[b] 150 Brazilians suffered violent death each day last year.[/b] The government, however, called reporters to tell that crime has been dropping in Brazil in recent years mainly due to disarmament campaigns.

      For Marcelo Durante, the Justice Ministry’s report coordinator, the biggest reduction in criminality occurred in states where more people participated in the government program to buy back firearms.

      Durante also revealed that many violent crimes are underreported in Brazil. He mentioned for example that it’s believed that [b]75% of robberies and 85% of rapes are NEVER reported to the police.[/b]

      Many Brazilian seem to think that reporting those crimes would be just a waste of time since the authorities wouldn’t do anything anyway.

      The government study listed crimes that occurred in cities with more than a 100,000 inhabitants in 2004 and 2005. The numbers come straight from the states Security Secretariats.

      The state of Rio de Janeiro despite a 4% decrease in the number of violent deaths kept its title as murder champion followed by Pernambuco state in the Brazilian northeast.

      [b]Camaragibe[/b], a city in Recife’s (capital of Pernambuco) metropolitan area, was the municipality with the highest number of violent deaths. There were [b]180.9 murders for each 100 thousand[/b] residents during the period studied.

      Duque de Caxias, in Rio de Janeiro, came in second with 120.7 deaths per 100,000. And it was a big surprise to see [b]Curitiba[/b], capital of the southern state of ParanÀƒ¡, appearing in third, with a rate of 119.9 deaths.

      For comparison’s sake, New Orleans, the US most violent city had a murder rate of 53.1 deaths per 100,000 before the Katrina hurricane. In Washington DC the rate is 45 per 100,000, in Detroit, 41.8 and in Iraq 27.5 violent deaths per 100,000 people.

      All over Brazil, the number of deaths by violent crime grew 1% from 2004 to 2005, raising from 54,696 homicides to 55.312. This despite the reduction of murders in 11 states including Rio Grande do Sul, which saw an expressive decline of 35%.[/quote]

    • bo

      [quote]…
      written by Thaddeus Blanchette, 2007-02-20 22:29:41

      Back with your assinine comments about Baghdad again, are you Bo:

      Do us both a favor: why don’t you talk about a country you actually know something about for a change? and since it’s blindingly obvious to anyone who can actually read beyond U.S.A Today that your comments RE: Brazil, Iraq and the U.S. have been, up to now, full of the worst sort of misinformation, prejudice and outright lies…

      Why don’t you just just your donut hatch and quit shoing yourself up for the clueless jingo you are?
      [/quote]

      First of all, let’s address the issue of this thread first, ok? I’ll then get to this Brazil/Iraq murder thing you’ve been frothing about.

      For any human to make a statement that it is “hardly a story” for 60 kidnappings to take place in any city on planet earth within a year must be absolutely out of his mind. That is an [b]absurd[/b] statement and shows the type of environment that you obviously are accustomed to since you think it is “normal”.

      Now, as far as my previous comments regarding Iraq and Brazil, and they’re murder rates as well as “overall murders”, there were a LOT more people making these comparisons than myself, and justifiably so, after Brazil’s own Justice Ministry published the overall number of murders as well as murder rates for cities throughout brazil for 2005. And I’m talking about news agencies such as Reuters, CNN, and numerous, numerous other journals, publications, and internet sites.

      BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) – More than 150 Brazilians were murdered each day last year on average, putting Brazil on a par with some war zones in terms of its homicide rate, the Justice Ministry said on Monday.

      Some 55,000 Brazilians died of homicide in 2005 — a few thousand more civilians than in three years of war in Iraq, according to leading estimates.

      Brazil, a continent-sized nation of 185 million people starkly divided into rich and poor, has had notoriously high crime rates for years. Millions of poor live in urban slums and unpoliced rural areas where guns are easy to come by.

      Though the murder rate is high, Marcelo Durante, coordinator of the Justice Ministry’s report, said homicides have fallen slowly in recent years thanks in part to an initiative to collect guns from the streets.

      Citizens have voluntarily turned in thousands of weapons in places like Rio de Janeiro, the famous beachside city whose urban slums have some of the highest crime rates in Brazil.

      A referendum in 2005 to ban gun sales failed, in part because some voters had lost faith in police.

      “It was the states that collected the most guns that saw crime rates fall most,” said Durante, “but we have to remember it’s not just about guns.”

      Other kinds of violent crime in Brazil are far more common than statistics show, Durante said, adding that urban surveys suggest only a quarter of all robberies and 15 percent of all rapes are reported nationwide.

      “At least with homicide, we can be a little more confident most of the crimes are getting reported,” he said.

      Murders also declined in Brazil’s largest city of Sao Paulo in recent years, Durante said. Earlier this year, however, a gang known as First Command of the Capital launched a series of attacks on police, banks and buses in which about 200 police, gangsters and innocent civilians were killed.

      Now, if you want to talk about murder rates, since the overall number of murders that take place in one year in brazil have dwarfed Iraq in the past, as was mentioned, 2005 equaled the previous three years in Iraq of civilian causualties, we can do that too. As Camaragibe, which has 181 murders per 100K is right in line with the death rate in Iraq!

    • A real Brazilian

      Tim or Tina

      Are you going to call mommy or daddy now? What a joke!! 😉

    • A real Brazilian

      Jabolado,

      Like we say here top top toma! 😉

    • A real Brazilian

      Oh, this must be a great day for me isnt it??? 😉 😉

    • Thaddeus Blanchette

      Back with your assinine comments about Baghdad again, are you Bo:

      Do us both a favor: why don’t you talk about a country you actually know something about for a change? and since it’s blindingly obvious to anyone who can actually read beyond U.S.A Today that your comments RE: Brazil, Iraq and the U.S. have been, up to now, full of the worst sort of misinformation, prejudice and outright lies…

      Why don’t you just just your donut hatch and quit shoing yourself up for the clueless jingo you are?

    • Forrest Allen Brown

      phones in jail ??????? you are there because you are bad
      TAKE THE PHONES OUT OF THE PRISONS .

      OR JUST BLOCK THEM WITH A HIGH BAND PULS AROUND THE JAIL .

      SHERCH THE GUARDS , THEN PUT THEM IN JAIL FOR TRANSPORTING STUFF TO PRISONERS

    • Tim

      One, two, three or ten – when do you consider it a problem?
      [quote]Note the number of “Quicknappings” (114smilies/cool.gif in SP versus the number of bonafide kidnappings (62). Hell, if it were just kidnappings we were talking about, this would hardly be a story. But by elevating what is effectively a mugging to the same status of kidnapping, we can pad our stats and do whatever we like.[/quote]

      Ya, thatÀ‚´s reported. I think you could multipy those numbers by about 3 to geta truer stat. I know two folks whom were kidnapped. It was all settled in days, no police, no questions. When you report a kidnapping it just brings more problems – most poeple know that.

    • bo

      [img]http://veja.abril.com.br/idade/exclusivo/210207/imagens/capa.gif[/img]

    • bo

      62 kidnappings?? In a year?? That’s better than 5 a month, I think that’s a story in most places Thaddeus, even in baghdad.

    • Thaddeus Blanchette

      So quicknapping – which is basically mugging – is somehow transformed into the equivalent of being kidnapped and held for ransome by a twist of a phrase.

      Note the number of “Quicknappings” (1148) in SP versus the number of bonafide kidnappings (62). Hell, if it were just kidnappings we were talking about, this would hardly be a story. But by elevating what is effectively a mugging to the same status of kidnapping, we can pad our stats and do whatever we like.

      Ain’t semiotics wonbderful? 😉

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