Experts warn of new phone ransom calls that get very personal

Brandy Baker-Zenk, of Hamm Lake, described the moment she received a phone call this week from a man claiming to have kidnapped one of her daughters.

"I picked up the phone," she recalled. "It wasn't a number I recognized."

"What I find the most alarming is that they knew my name, they had my number, they knew Morgan's name and they knew she was at the mall," Baker-Zenk said.

The Mall of America is where Zenk's 13-year-old daughter Morgan and an older sibling were spending the afternoon. Now, this mother feared her children were in danger.

"I'm trying to hold it together because you're instantly, you lose your mind because you're like, somebody has my kid," Zenk said.

The man called from a Mexico telephone number and demanded thousands of dollars in ransom in exchange for Morgan's safe return. Then, she heard a child's cry for help.

Zenk hung up and called her oldest daughter.

So, I called Bailey and she answers right away and I say, 'Do you have Morgan?' and she said, 'Yes,'" Zenk added.

She later learned that the whole call was phony.

"What's really scary about this is that you'll actually hear a child crying in the background or panicking and it makes it seem like it's really real and that they might actually have your child," said Bess Ellenson, of the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

The Better Business Bureau has issued an alert about the ransom calls. What's unclear is how a complete stranger could know so much.

"So, this is actually a bit of mystery and one of the biggest ways that we think people are getting this personal information, your phone number, your family member's names, is through social media," Ellenson added.

"Just be very careful," Zenk said. "Don't take those phone calls. Hang up instantly."