James Koenig's 18-year-old daughter Samantha Koenig has been missing since Feb. 1 from Anchorage, Alaska. Her distraught father posted his phone numbers on missing person flyers and now he is getting phone calls with fake leads from people looking to cash in on his pain.
"People come out of the woodwork for a reward," James Koenig told ABCNews.com.
The Anchorage Police Department is investigating his daughter's disappearance and is being flooded with calls from "psychics" claiming to have information about Samantha.
"We've never had a psychic lead that turns out to be correct," Anchorage Police Lt. Dave Parker told ABCNews.com.
The targeting of Koenig, the attempts to capitalize on his suffering, the frauds that distract police, the demented late night pranks played on grieving parents are not unique.
Monica Caison, the founder and director of the North Carolina-based CUE Center for Missing Persons, has had clients get terrifying phone calls in the middle of the night with someone wailing "Mommy" and pretending to be their missing child. Caison said the mother had a "complete nervous breakdown" following the call.
Others fend off virtual attacks.
"It's a scary thing when you open up a friend request and it's your kids," Caison said. "For two seconds, your heart drops. For 10 minutes, you wonder if it's the thing you've been waiting for."
When a person goes missing, devastated family members are thrust into the unfamiliar roles of advocate, investigator, organizer and often suspect. They represent the missing at press conferences and vigils. But away from the public eye, these families become the targets for hecklers and unimaginable cruelties.
The families are tormented by letters from psychics, fake Facebook pages, anonymous letters and mysterious phone calls, among other attacks.
"It's very hard. I went through everything. My son was missing for two years, two months and 12 days," Dwayne Baker told ABCNews.com. "Psychics called me. I even received a DVD in the mail that a guy claimed he could talk to the dead and this was Travis' voice, with no return address. I don't understand why people would want to do that."
Baker's son Travis disappeared on April 14, 2007 in Taylorsville, N.C. He was last seen driving a 1998 candy apple red Camero to a friend's house. More than two years later, his skeletal remains were found and a man was charged with his murder.
"The psychics…" Dwayne Baker, 45, said before pausing to let out a long sigh. "I hate to say how many of those called me and said they knew where Travis was. My mother and wife went to one and paid them $100."
When asked what the psychic told them, Baker said, "Where Travis is at, 'Yeah, he's deceased, by the river, under the rock.' They just have no respect for someone in that situation."
Baker said that sometimes people arrested for other crimes would tell police that they had information about his son's disappearance, in an attempt to avoid punishment.
"That's so hurtful because you may not hear something for a while and then someone gets arrested and does not want to do time and then, all of a sudden, they think they've got a lead," he said. "You never give up hope to start with, but when someone gives you false hope, it's just not right."
Perhaps most painfully, sometimes the perpetrators aren't looking for money or a get-out-of-jail-free card, they are just being cruel.
"We were definitely caught by surprise. We had no idea of the cruelty out there," Karen Bobo, the mother of missing Tennessee nursing student Holly Bobo, told ABCNews.com.