Police warn residents of kidnapping extortion scam

When she answered the phone Tuesday afternoon, a La Crescenta mother heard a girl screaming on the other end that some men had her in a van.

It sounded like her youngest daughter.

“Mom,” the girl said, before a man took the phone and demanded money.

Fearing that her teenage daughter would be harmed, the woman rushed to withdraw money and wired it to Mexico.

She shared her experience, which she reported that day to authorities, on social media this week to warn others.

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“He had me take the phone with me everywhere so he was never out of earshot,” she wrote. “Every time I sent money, they kept saying there must be more, what can you do? We went on like this, making three more stops and drops until I finally started to question it all.”

Finally, she confirmed with her husband that her daughter was safe and disconnected the call. The scammer, however, kept calling back, threatening to come to her home.

Scams like this are not new, and have been reported throughout the region. But the stories scammers use to swindle people do change, usually once a community starts to catch on that a story is bogus.

Police have taken reports of scams in which the caller tells the victim they won millions in the lottery, but have to front $5,000 to claim the winnings.

Fraudsters will also tell the victim that there’s an outstanding warrant for their arrest, or that they owe back taxes and need to pay immediately to avoid arrest, said Burbank Police Sgt. Claudio Losacco in a presentation this week to the Burbank Police Commission.

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Other common scams include the caller telling the victim that a family member was in an accident and needs money for treatment, or is in jail and needs to be bailed out. Scammers also may pose as utility companies, threatening to shut off the power unless the business owner pays up.

“The power company will do nothing like this, ever,” Losacco said.

Often the scammers demand that the victims load money on a Green Dot prepaid debit card at a liquor store or market, and turn over the card number.

According to Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Tuinstra, phone scammers typically route their calls through bogus phone numbers, which are nearly impossible to trace.

That’s what makes prevention and education so important, authorities said.

“If someone’s asking you to go get a Green Dot card to do anything, don’t do it. Just don’t do it,” Losacco said.

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Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @atchek

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