By Mary O’KEEFE
Recently there was a story on social media concerning a scam involving a fake kidnapping. The caller contacted the victim stating they had kidnapped her daughter, who is apparently screaming for help in the background. The victim is obviously distraught as the caller continued to threaten her daughter and demanding a ransom from the victim. The scammers made certain to increase the fear factor by threatening the victim if she attempted to contact anyone else. They demanded money for her daughter’s return; she wired the money. It was later that she found that her daughter was safe and had not been kidnapped.
These types of scams are called “virtual kidnaps.” Both the Glendale police and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s-Crescenta Valley Station have received reports of people being victimized in the area.
The scammers are quite skilled at getting the victim to release information without asking a direct question. For example, a grandmother received a call and the person on the other end identified himself as a police officer. He told the woman that her granddaughter had been involved in an accident that was her fault. The woman then said, “No, not Jenny.” But now the scammers had her granddaughter’s name.
Even though a lot of these scams are generated from outside the United States, by using technology like Google Earth it is easy to get information about the area. In one case, according to a LASD deputy, a woman was told that her child had been kidnapped. The woman was able to contact the sheriffs and, even with them advising her it was a scam, she was still worried that her child had been abducted.
In these type of scams as well as others, including the IRS supposedly calling to let the victim know they owed money or a call concerning a family member in jail or involved in an accident, the criminals who are attempting to get money illegally often ask the victim to send funds via a Green Dot type of money order. They are asking for funds that cannot be traced and cannot have a hold put on the transaction.
LASD reminds anyone who receives these calls to make certain to contact their loved one who is supposedly in danger by using another phone. Although the scammers work on creating a feeling of chaos and fear, it is important for the targeted victim to try and not give too much information and to ask questions that only the loved one would know.
In the case where scammers were describing a scene of an accident involving her granddaughter, the grandmother had given the perpetrators her granddaughter’s name and the information that she was in college, but had forgotten the name of the college. The scammers continued to ask what the college name was, which started the grandmother wondering if this story was real. Then the person who was pretending to be the police officer began getting angry –another sign of a fake story – and told the grandmother the granddaughter was going to be arrested for driving drunk. It was at that point Grandma knew it was fake because her granddaughter would never drive drunk and she hung up.
It is important for victims of these types of crimes to report them to the police and sheriffs. Both GPD and LASD have said they will investigate the incidents.