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By Jeff Pack

Fallbrook woman reports 'Virtual Kidnapping' fraud attempt


Last updated 8/31/2018 at 2:27pm

Imagine you’ve just dropped your children off for school and you’re headed out to your day when you receive a phone call.

It’s a phone number you don’t recognize but considering your children had just started the school year and because you worry, you answer.

On the other end you hear a young girl crying in the background saying “Mommy, mom, please help me, they took me.”

You respond by blurting out your daughter’s name and then a menacing voice picks up the phone and tells you that they are with the Mexican Mafia and they have your daughter and that this “is a kidnapping.”

Then they demand a ransom and threaten what you think is your daughter’s life.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation calls this a “Virtual Kidnapping,” and it’s a scheme that has become increasingly more sophisticated in recent years.

According to the FBI, “Between 2013 and 2015, investigators in the FBI’s Los Angeles Division were tracking virtual kidnapping calls from Mexico — almost all of these schemes originate from within Mexican prisons. The calls targeted specific individuals who were Spanish speakers. A majority of the victims were from the Los Angeles and Houston areas.”

But in 2015, the calls started coming in English and started cold-calling various cities and hundreds of numbers, according to the FBI. The change was significant because it vastly increased the number of potential victims. During one FBI investigation they said, more than 80 victims were identified in California, Minnesota, Idaho and Texas.

“This is a common scam, similar to others that have happened all over the country the last several years,” said Sgt. Yates of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Fallbrook Substation. “I have not seen anything in the Fallbrook area in the last year or two.”

When it happened to a local Fallbrook woman who asked that her name not be used, she admittedly was frightened.

“They said, ‘Are you going to help your kid or not?’” she said. “I was suspicious from the get-go because I couldn't tell if it was my daughter. I ended up hanging up shortly after. I panicked, I was literally stepping into Target in Temecula when my phone rang. I stood there in shock looking around not knowing what to do.”

She immediately dialed 911 and jumped in the car to head back to Fallbrook to check on her daughter at school.

“I was on the 15 heading back to Fallbrook speeding through traffic crying wondering where my daughter was,” she said. “I kept telling myself it's just a scam trying to calm myself.”

She said she then called the high school and the school told her they hadn’t received the attendance lists back but put her on hold until they could locate her daughter.

“Then they told me they would call her teacher to let her step outside out of class to call me so that I could hear her voice,” she said. “Then was able to speak to her. It was an awful experience I hope no one has to go through.”

She said she recently had her debit card replaced because of a fraud issue on both her debit and credit card in the week before and this incident just exacerbated her fears.

“I feel so violated and afraid of who has my information and how much of it,” she said.

The FBI offers tips on how people can avoid falling victim to these scams:

1. Best course of action is to hang up the phone.

2. If you do engage with the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.

3. Slow the situation down and ask to speak to the family member directly.

4. Ask questions only the alleged victim would know.

5. Listen carefully to the victim as they speak.

6. Attempt to contact the alleged victim separately from the phone call.

7. Buy time and tell them you are writing down the demands.

8. Don’t agree to pay a ransom by wire or in person.

If you believe a real kidnapping has taken place, contact your nearest law enforcement office or FBI office immediately. Tips can be submitted online at anonymously.


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