Infant dies after she’s left in hot car

Virtual kidnapping cases in California prompt renewed scam warnings

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. – Authorities in California are warning of a recent increase in cases of so-called virtual kidnapping, a terrifying scam that has been around for years.

The FBI says in these scams a victim is told his or her family member has been kidnapped and a ransom is demanded.

But, it’s not an abduction; virtual kidnappers have not actually taken anyone, Instead, the FBI says, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart.

KCAL reports several parents in Southern California were recently targeted.

In one case, a woman thought her 19-year-old daughter had been kidnapped. She thought she was hearing the panicked voice of her daughter who was away at college in Oregon.

“It was a nightmare from the beginning, hearing my daughter a voice, screaming for help that she was in a van,” she told KCAL.

But, it was not really her daughter on the phone; however, the Irvine mother didn’t know that for more than six hours.

She wired $4,500 to the suspects.

Police say if you get a call like that, you should be suspicious if the caller tries to prevent you from hanging up and contacting the victim.

The FBI says if this happens to you, the following should be considered:

  • In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
  • Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone. Contact family members in the United States and Mexico to determine if they have been called as well.
  • If you do engage the caller, do not disclose your loved one’s name or provide any identifying information.
  • Try to slow the situation down. The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved.
  • Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask: “How do I know my loved one is OK?”
  • Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the alleged victim if they speak. Often it is someone posing as the kidnap victim.
  • To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need more time.
  • Do not agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous.

If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe a ransom demand is a scheme, contact your nearest FBI office or local law enforcement immediately.

You can also contact the FBI at 505-889-1300. Click here to read more from the FBI.

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