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S.O.S. Sending Out Scary (texts)

May 11, 2017

text sosSunday night on Cape Cod. My parents and I had finished dinner and I was in for the evening. So I thought. My cell phone buzzed, a text from my youngest sister.

SOS!” it read, along with a link to her cell phone’s GPS coordinates in Yarmouth, the next town over. I called her back. No answer.

“I’m coming,” I texted back. Seconds later, a second text.

I need help,” it read, with a link to the same coordinates, along with a 5-second garbled audio message and two blurry photos.

“It’s Meri,” I told my dad. “I think she needs help.”

“Let’s go,” Dad said.

“Mom, we’ll be right back!” I yelled upstairs. I didn’t want her to worry. She worries.

We got into my car and plugged in the coordinates from the text. On the way we passed the Barnstable Police Station.

“I think we should pull in,” I said. Dad agreed.

In the station, their quiet Sunday night was interrupted by our rushed entry. We showed the desk sergeant the alarming texts on my cell phone screen. As we stood there, the sergeant radioed the police in the next town. Dad and I went back to the car and headed for the same coordinates. It was starting to drizzle. The road we were on—the Old Kings Highway—was winding and dark, my headlights just barely illuminating the way ahead.

“What if it’s a scam?” I wondered aloud. “Bad guys luring people to destinations and chopping them up?”

“I doubt it,” Dad said. Still. In my mind I reviewed the contents of my trunk for what could possibly be used as a weapon. A rollerblade? A bike shoe? I’ve been living in New York City too long.

Our destination was a house. Lights on, cars out front. I parked on a neighbor’s lawn. At the same time a police car appeared. The cop was calm as he asked for my name and my sister’s name; he had obviously been briefed. We approached the front door together. He knocked. No answer. He knocked again louder. No response. Even more worried, I suggested, “Let’s just go in.” The cop blinked his flashlight through the glass storm door. Finally a woman appeared, my sister behind her! Seeing an officer at the door, both looked alarmed. When they opened the door there were sounds of soft jazz. We had interrupted a dinner party. I explained about the texts. We were mystified. The cop, seeing everything was OK, left. My sister swore up and down that there was no emergency and that the phone had been in her pocketbook. Despite her utter mortification, it was comforting to know a complex system like that works.


I called Verizon. “How does a cell phone call for emergency assistance on its own?” Turns out, on some phones, if you hit the “home” button three times, the cell phone sends an emergency SOS to a designated contact. But do most people even know about this capacity? While it can be a reassuring feature, it can generate a lot of mischief when accidentally triggered by the contents of a pocketbook. I used to laugh at “butt dialing.” Not anymore.


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  1. Tom Olverson permalink

    Never knew this function of my phone. Thanks for sharing, Felice!

  2. Sue Eleftherakis permalink

    I have also learned that we need to turn our phones off by pressing the right side button on iphones. My problem was that my phone was calling, all on it’s own, the last person I talked to. I thought it was possessed!! So embarrassing!

  3. Edes Gilbert permalink


    Sent from my iPhone


  4. “…sounds of soft jazz” says it all. Funny piece, Felice.

    • Meredith Cohen permalink

      Dave brubeck!!!! James send this to Marissa!!!

  5. Auntie M permalink

    Scary, glad it turned out OK

  6. Richard Aberson permalink

    Sure glad it was a false alarm. You and your Dad handled this scare very sensibly.

  7. This has been happening to me from my boyfriend’s phone a lot but with creepy picture texts too. The first one he doesn’t remember being with his phone at that time. It was at 12:01 AM and we were together at the time. His phone sent the same exact texts “SOS” and the “I need help” with Google maps links to a location and also a text of his face. All simultaneously, in unison. But the picture of my boyfriend wasn’t human. It was the top half of his face but his eyes were brown and dark instead of blue. And his bottom half of his face was all warped and it wasn’t him. I can’t explain it any better than that, but it was really frieghtening. The second time it was two pictures, all black, and then the next one you can see some figure, kind of humanish but also maybe not. It was too grainy to make out what it was. Had to be inside of his picket or something. Glad we understand why it’s been doing that now.

  8. Kevin Haro permalink

    Holy cow, this just happened to me. Talk about having a mild heart attack! Thank you so much for this explanatory post. Here is a potential resource to shed more like on this situation.

    In my case I got the “SOS!” text, then an audio recording of what sounded like the turn signal ticking and my mothers voice, the the “I need help” text.

  9. Abbey permalink

    This happened to me a few days ago, I was in the shower but instead of me being the person to receive the messages I apparently sent them… I was so terrified.

  10. I received such message today and there were my residence co-ordinates in that text message. But it came from an unknown number. I am still wondering that why did I receive my home’s co-ordinates from some unknown number.

    Can anyone explain?

  11. Mimi OG permalink

    This just happened to me this morning coming from my brother. The texts went to his girlfriend and me who are his emergency contacts. He was at work and did not have his phone on him at the time they were sent. We were going crazy trying to figure out what happened. Thankfully, he is okay but it sure can be very scary.

  12. T White permalink

    We just had this same experience but ours actually triggered a man hunt for our son! He was backcountry camping at Yellowstone when we received the “I need help” and then shortly after the “SOS” texts. Unable to reach him we contacted park rangers and they formed a horseback mounted search party. It was the worst 6 hours you can imagine. Thankfully it was a false alarm. Rangers were about 20 minutes away from sending out a helicopter!

    • OMG! Hands down scary, but then the time and energy used by rangers. Glad he was ok.

      • T White permalink

        Yes, very scary indeed! (should have said “…triggered SAR mission….). But, also very reassuring to know that our NPS is staffed with such high quality individuals. Shout out to all our NPS Rangers and especially the ones @ YNP who helped us out in a very frightening situation.

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