The Winters Police Department is warning residents to beware of a “virtual kidnapping" scam that is making the rounds in California, with scammers particularly targeting the Hispanic community.
Victims receive a phone call stating that a loved one has been kidnapped and demanding ransom money, according to a Police Department Facebook post. Sometimes the victim can hear screams or voices in the background.
The callers sometimes provide an account number or Western Union stations to which the money is to be transferred. Victims often are warned not to contact law enforcement before sending the money.
Investigating kidnapping scams is difficult because callers frequently use fake phone numbers or numbers that originate in foreign countries, according to police.
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The scam has been reported in various parts of the United States since 2012. During a rash of kidnapping scams in New York in 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported calls typically came from outside area codes, including area codes in Puerto Rico. The FBI news release noted that the calls did not come from the supposed kidnap victim’s phone.
Anyone who receives a call from someone who demands payment of ransom for a kidnap victim is advised to stay on the line to gather as much information as possible, including the caller’s name and a call-back number. Contact the supposed kidnap victim to determine where he or she is and call 911 to report the incident.