The craziest fake kidnappings

Kidnapping is generally considered to be one of the worst crimes a person can commit. It takes everything bad about theft and adds in another living human being. There's a reason why it carries such a heavy prison sentence. Amber Alerts are sent out every day and real people go missing, but not all kidnappings are what they seem at face value. Sometimes they're a scam, and other times they're a cry for attention. With the load of missing kids that are reported every day, it's better to treat each case as legitimate until proven otherwise.

When a kidnapping is found to be fake, a hoax, it stirs up sensational news stories, usually more than once: one for the kidnapping incident and one for the exposure of the scam. But fake kidnappings do a lot more than that. They tie up police and rescue resources, cost states thousands of dollars, and can end in charges against whoever is crying wolf. Worst, it can distract authorities from more legitimate crimes that need their attention. Some of the fake kidnapping stories out there do get pretty crazy, though.

Bronx teen stages her kidnapping to avoid moving

It would be hard to consider yourself a human being if you never had the urge to run away from your parents, especially if they're the overly controlling type or when you're forced to move away from the only life you've had and friends you've known. It's even worse when you're told you have to move to an entirely different country. Most of us wouldn't go so far as to fake our own kidnapping, but some have more gumption than others.

Imagine being Bronx teen Karol Sanchez's mother for a moment. You're walking down the street with your daughter when, seemingly out of nowhere, a car pulls up, two dudes jump out, and they shove your beloved 16-year-old into the back seat. According to Time Magazine, that's exactly what happened. The NYPD released video footage of the incident from a nearby security camera. An Amber Alert was issued for the girl, tweets were tweeted, and all hell broke loose in New York.

Sanchez was found the following afternoon. It was a happy moment for the state ... at first. Within hours, Sanchez admitted the kidnapping was a hoax of her design. According to the girl, her family had been thinking about moving back to Honduras, and she wanted to stay in the great U.S. of A.

Chinese students in Australia are scammed into faking their kidnappings

Faking one's own kidnapping is shady enough. The perpetrator is usually trying to bilk money or sympathy from people they're supposed to be close with. It's even worse when the fake kidnappee is being scammed or extorted into playing their part. Apparently, this type of scam has become popular in certain parts of the world, Australia for example.

Over the past year, at least eight people have been hit by a virtual kidnapping scam in Australia alone. The scammers pick out Chinese students who don't have any family or support system in the area as easy targets. The students receive a phone call from someone speaking their native language and claiming to be from one branch or another of their home government. Of course, the caller is actually a scammer.

The scammers posing as government authorities somehow convince their targets to tie themselves up and take pictures so the scammers can ransom their families, usually through the threat of legal repercussions such as extradition or criminal charges. The students tend to disappear to a hotel room for a while to avoid breaking the scam if someone sees them at home. You might be thinking that no one would ever fall for this ridiculous scam, but, according to CNN, the scammers have made millions of dollars.

A woman faked her kidnapping for research purposes

Writers have done some crazy things for the sake of an authentic story. The writer of Cast Away stranded himself on an island, Hunter S. Thompson infiltrated the Hells Angels for a book, and unknown writer Hannah Potts apparently faked her own kidnapping for research purposes.

According to WEVV-TV, Potts, a 23-year-old woman from Indiana, posted a video to Facebook in July 2020, claiming to have been kidnapped. The video contained no images but gave a detailed description of the abduction, with Potts claiming to have been stuffed into the trunk of a maroon sedan and driven to an unknown location. She pleaded with listeners to share the video with the police in hopes that she could be rescued from her oh-so-real kidnapper. To keep the theme as cliché as possible, Potts claimed she was being held in a tiny room, empty but for a single light.

The FBI got involved, so Potts must have done a pretty good job faking her video. The police questioned a friend of hers, Maria Hopper, about the situation, and Hopper claimed not to have seen Potts for several days. Hopper was then informed that lying about the kidnapping could result in some pretty heavy charges. Hopper got nervous when the cops searched her home and finally admitted that Potts was hiding out in a little concrete room in the basement. Potts may have gotten what she needed for her story, but it came with criminal charges.

City councilor claims kidnapping to run away with another man

Being a city official comes with a ton of stress. It's hard enough to be responsible for one's own self, let alone for a population. It's safe to assume that Dar Heatherington, a city councilor from Alberta, Canada, was under monumental stress when she disappeared. However, evidence of an affair plays into the story as well.

Heatherington was in Montana for official business when she disappeared on May 3, 2003, only to turn up in Las Vegas on May 6, claiming to have been kidnapped and sexually assaulted during the time she was missing. She wasn't, but the police wouldn't find this out until the following year because Heatherington did a good job of setting the stage. When she took off for Sin City, she abandoned her rental car full of gifts and left her purse behind. But it started long before that.

In 2002, according to The Globe and Mail, Heatherington claimed she was being stalked. At the time of the stalker investigation, Heatherington's husband believed she was hiding an affair, but things didn't add up. There were phone calls Heatherington claimed were from the stalker and notes that were left on the front door. During the kidnapping investigation, it was discovered that Heatherington had written the notes herself and that the reason she'd disappeared was to spend a weekend with a married man. Quite the complicated cover-up, if you ask us.

Faking her own daughter's kidnapping

Many fake kidnappings are perpetrated by the "victim," but a few cases involve parents faking the kidnapping of their children. The story of Shannon Matthews, in particular, is quite tragic. Matthews was only nine years old at the time she disappeared in 2008 in Dewsbury, England. The police didn't find the girl for 24 days, and the media was in a frenzy.

Shannon's mother, Karen Matthews, was as distraught as any mother of a kidnapped child would be in the given situation. She cried on the news and pleaded with the kidnappers to return her child, all the while going about life like everything was absolutely peachy when the cameras were turned away. Even her former best friend knew something wasn't right, and, as she told the BBC, Karen Matthews couldn't help lapping up the attention.

The kidnapped girl was found at a residence — get this — owned by the uncle of the mother's boyfriend. As you can imagine, the mother and her boyfriend were charged and convicted over the incident. But this wasn't your average fake kidnapping. Shannon Matthews wasn't simply hiding out while her mother waited for the £50,000 reward, which was determined later on to have been the motive. Matthews was found drugged and stuffed inside the base of a bed. A noose was found and is believed to have been the method by which the uncle restrained the poor child when her parental captors weren't present.

Blackmailing his own mother and doing it poorly

Most ransom notes tend to ask for what professionals call "a buttload of money." Let's face it, kidnapping for profit wouldn't be worth the risk if these criminals were asking for pocket change. Kidnapping, in the United States, can carry a sentence from 20 years to life in prison. Contrary to the perceived economic incentive for most kidnappers, the ransom for Emmanuel Franklin, a 19-year-old from South Carolina, was much, much too low.

Per WLTX, Franklin was only "kidnapped" for two days, from January 22 until January 24, 2019, but the short time probably gave his mother, Velisa Ward, a figurative heart attack. Franklin's mother received a phone call from a private number on the first day of her son's disappearance. On the other end was Franklin and an unknown person claiming that Franklin had been kidnapped, and if she didn't pay a grand total of $130, he would be harmed or, potentially, killed. That's about the price you'd pay for a cheap TV during a Black Friday sale. It's chump change for a ransom.

Obviously, the kidnapping wasn't real. Franklin admitted that he'd set the not-so-elaborate hoax up as a way to scam his mother into giving him $130. Maybe he needed a new Xbox game, or something. Regardless, he should've taken a bit more time to flesh out his scam, since he was caught due to using his father's home address as the "money drop."

A Brazilian soccer player faked his kidnapping because he was late for practice

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to fake your own kidnapping, like to evade the Russian mafia after selling them counterfeit Rolexes or hiding from that ex who can't get the hint. There are other situations where almost any other excuse would be better than an elaborate story about being abducted. As far as the story of Brazilian soccer player Somalia is concerned, the fabled stakes could have easily been lower.

Somalia was having one of those unfortunate days where one shows up late for work and gets in trouble with the boss. Only, for Somalia, he wasn't facing a write-up or a stern talking-to. The Rio de Janeiro soccer club Botafogo, for whom Somalia played midfield, threatens to cut their employees' pay up to 40 percent for being tardy to practice. That's kind of a big deal. So, Somalia did the rational thing and claimed to have been carjacked, per the BBC. It gets better. The supposed carjacker held Somalia at gunpoint while he drove him around town for two hours for no better reason than the calm and serenity that comes from a scenic drive in a stolen vehicle while keeping a hostage.

The story fell apart when camera footage from outside Somalia's apartment showed him leaving at 9:00 AM, whereas the supposed kidnapping occurred at 7:00 AM.

Calling in a fabricated kidnap story to get the cops to move faster

When something dear to you goes missing, you'd hope the police did their jobs as quickly as possible to get your missing chi- ... object back in your arms, and you'd help motivate them in any way you could. Right? That's all Shawn Christopher Ivory, a 37-year-old father from Florida, was doing after the black and gold Yamaha he was selling on eBay had disappeared.

According to The Gainesville Sun, it was just another crazy day in the Sunshine State when Alachua County sheriff's deputies received a call about a motorcycle hijacking. Bike thieves, as Ivory claimed, had attacked him and stolen his ride, kidnapping his one-year-old son in the process. The deputies set out at once on a two-hour search to find the supposedly missing child and, Ivory hoped, the actually missing motorcycle. They found the child, you know, safely with his mother. Apparently, Ivory had told her to take their son for the day so that it would look like he'd been kidnapped. We're not sure if the stolen Yamaha was ever found, but Ivory was taken away in handcuffs for providing a false report and wasting police resources.

A woman in England faked her abduction to avoid a Christmas gathering

This story has a bit of a tragic element to it. It's not just about a person wanting to avoid their relatives, get out of Secret Santa, or prevent themselves, God forbid, from doling out cash for a White Elephant gift. This story, at its center, is about a woman with a serious mental illness. Joanna Grenside suffered from anorexia when she was a teenager, but that wasn't the end of her struggles with eating disorders. The anorexia had morphed into bulimia by the time of the 1993 incident, according to The Independent.

Grenside's eating disorder was the root of her fake kidnapping when she seemingly disappeared for 36 hours during the Christmas holiday. She couldn't be around the food or the partying that comes with the Christmas territory. So, instead of finding a rational excuse for dipping out on the Yuletide celebrations, Grenside claimed to have been abducted and sexually assaulted. The resulting search was pretty in-depth and expensive. Between the usual police work involved with a missing person, the helicopter, and the underwater search and rescue team, the whole affair wasted around £20,000. Grenside got off easy on the charges due to the mental health issues involved.

A DEA employee and her husband faked a kidnapping for, well, who knows

That's right, this DEA agent and her contractor husband twined together a plot with an official purpose of "defrauding" the United States government, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. But, for what? They didn't ask for a ransom. The children were never abducted. The motive behind the whole incident isn't clear in the least, but there must have been one.

Nydia L. Perez and John A. Soto were working at the U.S. embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, when everything went down in December 2013. The couple reported to the embassy that Soto's children, Perez's stepchildren, were the target of some nefarious kidnapping scheme. The court documents say the couple even sent an email to the embassy containing pictures of the children doing their everyday activities as a way to make the threat seem substantial. When they were interviewed by the FBI, Soto claimed he had no idea who would want to do this to his family, but Perez felt she had a suspect in mind. She went on to suggest that their doorman may have been the culprit the FBI was looking for. Of course, the couple was found to have perpetrated the whole thing themselves. It seems like an unnecessary way to fire your door guy.

A teen causes a viral problem on Twitter

In a tweet heard around the world, one teenage girl cried for help. The tweet stated, "There is someone in my hour ecall 911," which we're pretty sure was supposed to say "my house call 911." Either way, plenty of people called 911. According to ABC News, the tweet prompted more than 30,000 retweets and 6,000 phone calls to the authorities. The world was concerned for Kara Alongi, the teenager who was missing for two days, but maybe they shouldn't have been.

In Alongi's story, she told police that a Black man who said he was around 28 years old came into her house and abducted her. Of course, he was kind enough to give her the time to pack a bag first. After she was found alongside the New Jersey turnpike, Algoni claimed she was unable to recall the previous 46 hours, only that she woke up in a house surrounded by three guys. 

The investigation into Algoni's disappearance went on for nine months, costing countless police resources, and revealed that Algoni had called a cab to her place the night of her "abduction." The police released a photo of the girl standing alone at the Rahway train station, and they confirmed she bought a ticket at Penn Station that day. Faced with the evidence, Algoni admitted it was a hoax, and she was forced to do 40 hours of community service and pay a $2,000 fine, among other punishments.

Dr. Mark Salerno went missing ... three times

You'd think Dr. Mark Salerno is a magician with how many times he's disappeared into thin air, but he's a pediatrician. It all started in 2002, when Salerno reached a bit of stardom in the media after being found in the trunk of his own car by a random passerby in San Diego. The rescue team was able to get him out pretty easily using the "jaws of life." Salerno's ankles were tied up with duct tape, though his hands were conveniently free. As reported by CNN, the pediatrician told police he'd been abducted by three or four men who shoved him into the trunk. Yeah, about that...

The video of Salerno's rescue hit the evening news, which was an unfortunate turn of events for the doctor. One of the viewers watching the segment just so happened to see Salerno shove himself into the trunk earlier that day. Salerno, as it turns out, was running from a charge for stealing a car.

Severe depression was said to be responsible for Salerno's behavior, including his second disappearing act six weeks later. He was found later in Pennsylvania and was charged with breaking his probation for that car-stealing incident. For the next 16 or so years, Salerno would remain fairly stable. He shifted his focus to work in mental health and became known as living proof for overcoming mental illness. However, he disappeared again in October 2018.