SANTA CRUZ COUNTY – Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Clark on Tuesday said that residents have been targeted recently by a so-called virtual kidnapping scam.
According to the FBI, in the scheme, individuals call falsely claiming to have kidnapped a family member.
The callers often have co-conspirators play the part of the family member “victims,” sometimes screaming in the background.
Victim telephone numbers appear to be dialed at random, but some authorities say they get their information by combing social media sites such as Facebook.
In some cases, the scammers demand a ransom payment.
Most schemes use various techniques to instill a sense of fear, panic and urgency in an effort to rush the victim into making a hasty decision.
The scammers usually require the ransom payment to be made immediately, and typically by wire transfer using companies such as Western Union.
In another typical scam, a caller claims that a loved one is in jail, and tells the victim to pay, usually with gift cards.
Both of those are sure signs the call is a scam, Clark said.
“No law enforcement in the U.S. is going to operate that way,” he said. “They are not going to call you and request payment to release someone. That does not happen, and they will also not ask for payment in gift cards.”
Anyone who receives scam calls should call the law enforcement agency for their jurisdiction.
In addition, Clark said that sharing information with friends and family could help others avoid the scams.
“That collective awareness reaches more people,” he said.
To avoid becoming a victim of the kidnapping scam, the FBI says to look for the following possible indicators:
• Incoming calls come from an outside area code
• Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone
• Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone
• Callers prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim
• Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service
If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:
• Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is OK?”
• If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
• Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak.
• Attempt to call, text or contact the victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
• While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.
• To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
• Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
• Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone.