Mexico has long battled crime problems, but a new racket called "virtual kidnapping" has emerged as the latest crime craze:
The phone call begins with the cries of an anguished child calling for a parent: "Mama! Papa!" The youngster's sobs are quickly replaced by a husky male voice that means business.
"We've got your child," he says in rapid-fire Spanish, usually adding an expletive for effect and then rattling off a list of demands that might include cash or jewels dropped off at a certain street corner or a sizable deposit made to a local bank.
The twist is that little Pablo or Teresa is safe and sound at school and not duct-taped to a chair in a rundown flophouse somewhere or stuffed in the back of a pirate taxi. But when the cellphone call comes in, that is not at all clear.
This is "virtual kidnapping," the name being given to Mexico's latest crime craze, one that has capitalized on the raw nerves of a country that has been terrorized by the real thing for years.
Mexico's crime problems extend to the bizarre as well, when pop musicians were being hunted by drug cartels.