Ever Had Your Brother Held For Ransom? Mine Was

At 9:44 am on Friday, May 11, 2012, I got a call on my mobile. A voice said, “Your brother has been in an accident. He’s hurt.” “Where?” I asked. A male voice with a heavy Puerto-Rican accent said, “In a gas station and he is hurt pretty bad.” The voice went on to tell me, “He hit my brother’s motorcycle and damaged it and tried to run off.” I asked “Is your brother OK?” He responded, “We have your brother tied up and will not let him go.” “We can pay for the repairs!” I told him. He said, “I don’t know what is going on here, but I was called in to help. He’s tied up and beaten.” “We can repair the motorcycle,” I repeated. His voice was annoyed and aggravated: “Look, this is a kidnap and we want $1,500 now!”

I didn’t know what to think
My thoughts at this point were… My brother lives in Puerto Rico and these guys sound Puerto Rican. Do they know I’m in Miami? Are they physically in Puerto Rico? How am I to pay them? I was starting to get really nervous. My throat was drying up and my hands were shaking a bit. I kept trying to remember what I had heard about express kidnappings. It’s when they kidnap you and take you to an ATM for ransom. It usually happens in other countries.

The negotiation begins
“Are you going to help your brother?” he asked. I said yes and he responded, “Good. Go to an ATM and withdraw $1,500. Can you do that? Do you have that kind of money?” I thought, wait a minute, he wants to negotiate.

He was asking if I had the money, instead of assuming I had it. I said, “No, that’s a lot of money. I would need to transfer…” He cut me off and asked, “Transfer?” I said, “Yes, from one account to another. It can take 3 days.” The kidnapper said, “No, go to the ATM right now and take $600 out.” “The maximum is $500,” I said. His response was “No, its $600!” and he gave me delivery instructions. During all of this, I was frantically calling my brother’s cell phone number from my office line. He didn’t pick up. On my second attempt, I heard what sounded like a pickup, a pause, then a disconnect tone. I called again and it went straight to voice mail. The kidnappers have my brother’s cell phone I thought. I tried my brother’s wife and she didn’t pick up either. The voice said, “Get in your car now and drive to an ATM.” Does this guy know I’m in Miami, I wondered? I couldn’t get him the money physically. I took a bold step and said, “I’m not going anywhere until I speak to my brother.” He didn’t like that. “No. Do as I say!”

I was beyond nervous
“How do I know this isn’t a prank call from a radio station?” I asked. He started laughing condescendingly and told someone with him, “Rafi,” that I thought this was a radio station prank call. Rafi said, “That’s it, I’m going to kill him now.” The voice started shouting “Is this what you want, the death of your brother on your conscience?” At this point, I was beyond nervous, I was scared. I heard Rafi moving and I could hear faint background noise, like a crowd, but I couldn’t make it out. I started pleading, “No, no, no, I will help. Please!” And like in a movie, I braced to hear a gun shot. I told the voice, “Look why kill him, he is useless to you dead and then you’ll have to deal with that problem. I told you I will help.” The voice said, “Go to your car now and drive to an ATM.” All of a sudden, I got a second call on my mobile, from a phone number I didn’t recognize. I asked him “Someone is calling me, can I answer?” “No,” he said. “If you hang up, I will kill him.” As he explained what he wanted me to do, I tried to dial the number that just called, hoping it was my brother’s wife.

“Rafi, get the gun”
The voice then asked, “Who is Marcos Menendez?” I was freaking out by now. The kidnappers must have seen my caller ID on the other phone number and thought I was trying to call out for help. The voice again asked, “Who is Marcos Menendez? Huh? Answer me!” I said “Who? Mendez? I don’t know.” He asked, “Is someone calling you on the other line?” My mobile was flashing with another call, but I said “No, no one. Can’t you see I’m talking to you?” The voice said “I’m tired of playing games with you. I’m going to give the order to execute your brother. I’m done fantasmeando [playing around] with you. Rafi, get the gun.” I started begging, “No, please don’t shoot. I’m on my way to the car right now.” Trying to get a grip on the situation, I asked him, “How do I know you won’t kill me or my brother after I pay you?” His tone of voice changed, from slangy, reggaetonero to reassuring and comforting: “I know you might feel insecure about the exchange. That’s why we will do it at a public place like Winn-Dixie Supermarket.” I went dead cold. They knew I was in Miami. There are no Winn-Dixies in Puerto Rico. They kidnapped my brother in Puerto Rico, I thought, and knew I could pay them in Miami. “What are you doing now?” the voice asked. “Tell me!” I said, “I need to get dressed to go to the ATM.” At this moment, my mind was exactly where they wanted it – in compliance. I was broken, scared and worried about my brother. Fear got the best of me. I dismissed any fleeting, rational thoughts, gathered my keys and proceeded to my car, only to realize it wasn’t there. I forgot my wife needed my car for something that morning.

“We have a problem”
I didn’t know if I should tell the kidnapper I didn’t have a car. I asked, “Can someone else deliver the money?” “If it’s not you, we’ll kill him,” he said. “We have a problem,” I told him. “I don’t have a car.” He got irate, cursed me out and continued to threaten me. I told him not to worry. I could walk to an ATM. At that moment, my mobile phone flashed with another call. It was my brother. I couldn’t resist picking it up. “Is that you?” I asked. My brother answered: “What do you want?” My heart dropped. Oh man, was I relived.

My brother laughed
“You haven’t been kidnapped?” I asked. My brother started laughing. “You got called? It’s a hoax,” he told me. “They’re trying to extort money from you. I’m okay. I was busy with a client. That’s why I didn’t pick up when you called. Tell them to go to hell,” he said. “They tried that on me two years ago.” I heard the click of a disconnected line and remembered I left the kidnapper on hold. Then I got a text message, “Semurio.” Poorly spelled in Spanish: “He’s dead.”

It’s a scam
I later called the FBI to report what happened. They took my information, but the lady nonchalantly said it happens all the time. She would send the report to an agent and I might get a call. I guess it wasn’t of major importance, since no money was involved and no one was really kidnapped. But if the FBI isn’t going to move on this, at least I can let others know. What happened to me is a scam for money. It felt very real and scary to me, but fortunately, it was fabricated. I uncovered various forums and a news article about this scam. I also searched the phone numbers on caller ID from the “kidnappers.” Both numbers, 787-477-0979 and 787-624-4234, have Puerto Rican area codes. My advice is to save those numbers on your phone and if you get called, don’t pick up. I know this is a mobile marketing newsletter where I mostly talk about my business marketing experiences. But I thought this was especially important to share and this was the best way to get the word out to 8,000+ readers.

Ironically (and especially for me), the easiest way to have reached my brother would have been a text message. He would just have replied and the ruse would have been uncovered. Even the criminals thought a text message was a good way to communicate a powerful and direct message. And I can tell you from experience, it worked.

Has this happened to you? Comment below.

Top 10 SMS campaigns of Q1

Arguably, SMS is one of the best channels out there that helps marketers reach consumers no matter if they have a smartphone or feature phone and brands such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola and General Mills have all increased their databases by implementing the medium into their overall strategies.

SMS is a great way for brands to connect with consumers on a deeper level. Additionally, marketers are able to build their databases to better target users in the near future.

Here are the top 10 SMS campaigns of the first quarter, in alphabetical order.

Ace Hardware
Westlake Ace Hardware, which operates 88 Ace Hardware stores in several states, used SMS to deliver weather-related text alerts and special offers to help consumers prepare for when the bad weather hits.

Through the SMS initiative, users were encouraged to opt-in to receive weather-related mobile notifications based on their ZIP code.

Additionally, Ace Hardware integrated the campaign with the National Weather Service to provide timely, location-based weather notifications.

SMS was an effective channel for Ace Hardware because it not only gave the company a new way to communicate to its consumers, but SMS also helped the company send out relevant information to help grow its database.

Aveeno
While many companies are placing QR codes on their static prints ads to drive user engagement, hair care brand Aveeno went a different direction.

The company placed mobile calls-to-action on its magazine print advertisements. When consumers texted the keyword HAIRS to the short code 467467 they were able to receive a free sample.

After consumers text-in the keyword, they fill out their contact information by replying to messages.

By offering an incentive – in this case a free sample – consumers are more inclined to opt-in.

This also helps Aveeno start a relationship with consumers and take it beyond a simple static ad.

Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola is no stranger to SMS and it was no surprise that the company was going to tap the channel when it came to promoting its latest initiative centered around March Madness.

Coca-Cola’s Coke Zero ran an interactive SMS program that rewarded users with prizes when they watched March Madness games.

The campaign centered around the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship games and during the games, an SMS call-to-action was promoted with on-air keywords and alerts with the Coke Zero logo that prompted users to text-in to win prizes.

Additionally, consumers could find codes on March Madness-themed Coke Zero products and cups and text them to the short code 2653.

The initiative was a great way to have users interact with their mobile device while they were watching a game at home.

General Mills
General Mills’ Cheerios brand leveraged SMS to help drive mobile donations for its Spoonfuls of Stories program.

The campaign asked consumers to donate to the organization First Book, which provides low-income families and schools with books and educational resources.

Additionally, for each mobile donation made, publisher Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing matched the donations up to 50,000 books.

Through the initiative, consumers were encouraged to text the keyword Books2Kids to the short code 20222.

Then, users received a text message back confirming their donation of $5, which was billed to their carrier bill.

Although SMS is a great channel to build a company’s database, it is also good for driving donations.

JCPenney
Department store JCPenney thought outside the box when it came to promoting its Easter dresses.

The time-sensitive campaign centered around JCPenney sending out SMS messages to its opted in consumers to drive them in-store for a one-day event.

Additionally, the SMS message included a link that let users shop Easter clothing from the company’s mobile site.

This is a good example of a company that is using their current mobile database to reach its customers and drive sales.

The one-day event was time-sensitive and SMS was a great channel to quickly get the word out about it.

Macy’s
Macy’s is another department store that took advantage of its mobile database to drive in-store and mobile sales.

Recently, the company sent out SMS messages to its customers that promoted exclusive looks from NBC’s “Fashion Star” show and let consumers shop them through their mobile device.

Additionally, those that were not opted-in to Macy’s database could also text the keyword STAR to the short code 62297 to learn more about the show and how to get the latest looks.

Macy’s has been using SMS for a while and continually sends out messages to its consumers letting them know about new sales and events.

Reese’s
Last month, Hershey’s Reese’s candies used SMS to let sports fans vie for a chance to win a trip to the upcoming 2013 NCAA Men’s Final Four game.

Reese’s ran a text-to-win promotion as part of a bigger push to interact with sports fans.

Sports fans were encouraged to text the keyword REESES to the short code 44144 for a chance to be entered to win prizes.

From there, users were sent back a message to enter their birthday and email address.

Additionally, the SMS message also included a link to Reese’s mobile site where users could learn about the rules of the game.

The campaign helped Reese’s start a dialogue with users and then continue it by sending more relevant SMS messages.

Rite Aid
Rite Aid is another company that used SMS to help drive donations.

To kick off its 18th annual Miracle Balloon campaign on April 1 benefitting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Rite Aid invited its shoppers to text the keyword RAKIDS to the short code 50555 and make a $5 donation.

Rite Aid proved that SMS can be used to drive awareness of a good cause and to get consumers involved.

Additionally, instead of simply asking them for a donation at the point-of-sale, Rite Aid used SMS to have consumers make their own choice about the donation.

Starbucks
When it comes to mobile, Starbucks is one of the companies that leads the pack no matter what channel they are using.

To promote its My Starbucks Rewards program, the company ran an in-store call to action.

The call to action was positioned near the drink counter so that when consumers waited for their drinks they could text-in.

Coffee lovers were encouraged to text the keyword GOLD to the short code 697289 (MYSBUX).

When consumers texted-in, they received a message from Starbucks that thanked them for their interest in the program.

For this instance, SMS helped Starbucks build up its My Starbucks Rewards program.

Additionally, but using the in-store call to action, the company was able to reach more consumers while they were waiting for their drink.

U.S. Tennis Association
The United States Tennis Association significantly expanded its existing SMS strategy this year with plans to bring in-venue messaging to more events and introduce new text clubs.

For the past couple of years, the USTA has used SMS to engage fans at specific events such as the U.S. Open.

Through the new SMS initiative fans in the audience are able to text to vote, answer a question, post a picture or send a message based on a promotion to a short code. The results will appear live on the screen in real-time.

The USTA said that it will also be able to deliver special offers to fans in the audience.

The association’s updated SMS strategy proves that it is never to late to build on an existing initiative and make it better.

Source: Mobile Marketer

How to Use Text Messages to Win Elections, Votes and Support

Are you in charge of getting support for a political candidate or issue? Winning elections has always been about getting your message out and boosting voter turnout. And in this new media age, you can rock the vote with text!

Make sure you use these 3 key steps to launch a successful text message communications campaign for your political candidate or issue.

  1. Pick the right partner- Chose a text message communications provider that has a proven track record of successful text campaigns (clients and results), has a simple-to-use texting platform (no training required), understands the rules and best practices, and knows how text messaging is best applied (experience to know what works). Momares.com can help you create and launch your text message program.
  2. Have a plan to start- Create a communications calendar with the key messages you want to send to your supporters and schedule them for delivery in advance. If things change, know that you can alert constituents of changes at any time, instantly. Momares’s text scheduling and send-now features are designed for this purpose.
  3. Promote your candidate’s mobile program. You want to build a large mobile list of supporters as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to promote your mobile call-to-action (Text CANDIDATENAME to 65047 to join us!) everywhere. And we mean everywhere! On your Facebook page, Twitter background, website, campaign materials, flyers, direct mailers, yard signs, robocalls and t-shirts. Create your call-to-action by registering your candidate’s name (keyword) with Momares for free. Check keyword availability here.

What Kinds of Text Messages Can you Send for Political Campaigns?

  • Send reminder messages about the cutoff dates for voter registration and link to registration forms.
  • Remind constituents to mail in their absentee ballots.
  • Invite people to campaign events.
  • Remind people to get out and vote on Election Day.
  • Promote down-ballot candidates on a zip code-by-zip code basis
  • Create a list of your campaign managers’ mobile phone numbers for quick internal communications.

Are you ready to get voters excited about your candidate or issue? Get started with a communications tool that’s personal, efficient and fast. Contact us for ideas and to get started! Pricing plans to accommodate any budget start at $149/mo.

Texting for Business? Break These Text Etiquette Rules at Your Own Risk

Text message etiquette for business

You know text messaging has come of age when Emily Post and Cosmo magazine both dish out etiquette rules for text messaging. Although we’re not authorities on manners, we do know text message marketing and have created our own etiquette tips for business texting. We’ve seen clients face the consequences, so break these at your own risk!

Text timing is important

Mobile phones have become “always on” communications devices, replacing regular phones and land lines. So you can forget thoughts like… “I’ll send my message at midnight and they can read it in the morning” or “It’s 5 a.m. and I’m up, so I might as well send my offer now.” Those thoughts could land you in text hell and under an “unsubscribe avalanche.” Unlike email, sending texts during off hours could create a backlash. You’ll only wake those who are calmly sleeping with their phones at their bedsides. Remember, angry, sleepy customers don’t buy happily in the morning.

Leave the cute text slang at home

Don’t uz txt slang 2 commnc8 4 biz. A standard abbreviation to save space is OK. Text slang that leaves your clients confused isn’t.

Be politically correct

Text messages are easy and informal, but don’t get too casual. If you wouldn’t say it at the office, you shouldn’t text it. That means no cursing or inappropriate message attachments. This is also known as the “Weiner effect.”

Identify yourself

We tell clients to format text messages a certain way and we do it for a reason. Just like you might forget a person’s name after meeting them, your customers might forget they signed up for your texts. Remind them by identifying yourself and starting every message with your branded keyword (the word clients use to sign up). This leads to less “Who’s that?” and more “Good deal!”

Test your texts

Ever heard of fat-finger fares? It’s when airlines post the wrong airfare amount because of a typo, turning a $350 ticket into a $30 fare and an expensive mistake. If you want to avoid your own discount boo-boo, test your message by sending it to your phone first. Our platform allows you to send yourself a text message before sending it to your subscribers.

Looks count too

Being different or standing out is not really a bad thing when promoting a business. But if you want to text in all caps or random caps to make your message stand out, we have one word of advice: don’t. You might think you’re getting more attention, but everyone else will think you’re SCREAMING or run by tEEnAgeRS.

If you haven’t tried text message marketing, now’s the time to take advantage of this powerful marketing tool. Our etiquette tips will help keep you out of hot water.

Mobile marketing: What’s in it for the consumer?

Small businesses ranging from restaurants to retailers and local entertainment centers are now using text message marketing. Business owners have clear benefits for using this type of program, but what are the benefits for consumers, the ones receiving the text messages?

How consumers benefit from mobile marketing messages:

  1. It’s an easy way to get money-saving offers from favorite stores.
  2. Offers are always accessible. No coupon carrying needed.
  3. Get VIP treatment as a mobile subscriber or loyal customer.
  4. It’s easier to gain and redeem points for loyalty programs.
  5. Get instant notice of upcoming deals.
  6. Get special deals not available elsewhere.

Want examples?
Our clients are offering a broad mix of contest giveaways, discounts and extra perks to their mobile subscribers. Contests do well, obviously, but free samples and discounts are also attractive to customers.

Here are a few offers our clients are giving their mobile marketing subscribers:

Pet Supermarket
Enter for a chance to win free pet food for a year. Text PETS to 65047.

Florida International University
Enter for a chance to win a $10,000 MBA scholarship. Text FIUMBA to 65047.

BirdBowl Bowling Center
Sign up and get $5 off your food bill that day. Text BIRDBOWL to 65047.

Splitsville Bowling Center
Get a free sample of the day’s featured menu item. Text SPLITSVILLE to 65047.

OMG Burger
Get a free sode with eth purchase of any burger and fries.

Slice ‘n Ice Pizza
Get a free slice of cheese pizza. Text PIZZA to 65047

Feel free to sign up for any of these offers if they appeal to you and you’ll see some of their promotions yourself.

If you like to start a text message marketing program, give us a call.