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Police give warning and advice after ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam strikes twice in Laguna

Police give warning and advice after ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam strikes twice in Laguna
The Laguna Beach Police Department issued a warning and advice in connection with a kidnapping scam in which callers claim to have abducted children and threaten to kill them unless their parents wire money to an account in Mexico. (File Photo)

Laguna Beach police are warning of a “virtual kidnapping” scam in which callers claim to have abducted children and threaten to kill them unless their parents wire money to an account in Mexico.

Police said the scheme affected two local residents in two days this month and has occurred in other area cities as well. Similar incidents in the region were reported in 2018 and 2017.

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In the recent Laguna cases, two parents were contacted March 7 and 8 by someone who claimed to have kidnapped their daughters. In both cases, the caller demanded a large amount of money and directed the parents to go to Costa Mesa to wire it to a Mexican account.

In one case, a man sent $5,000 before finding out his daughter was safe and had not been kidnapped.

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In the other, a woman called Laguna Beach police before wiring any money and was able to confirm her daughter was safe.

“We believe the suspect was able to learn personal information of the victim through unsecured social media sites (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.),” according to a statement from the Laguna Beach Police Department. “Review the settings of all your social media sites to make sure they are secured to protect yourself against being a victim.”

The department provided several tips on how to recognize whether such a call could be a scam:

  • The call does not come from the supposed kidnapping victim’s phone.

  • The caller tries to prevent you from contacting the supposed victim.

  • The caller goes to great lengths to keep you on the line.

  • The caller demands that ransom be paid via wire transfer to Mexico.

  • The amount of the ransom demand drops quickly.

If you receive a similar call, the department suggests the following:

  • Hang up.

  • Try to contact the supposed kidnapping victim via call, text or social media and request a call back from his or her cellphone.

  • If you stay on the line with the supposed kidnapper, don’t call out your loved one’s name.

  • Ask for proof that your loved one is OK and ask to speak to him or her directly.

  • If the supposed victim speaks, listen carefully to his or her voice.

  • Ask questions only your loved one would know, such as the name of a pet. Don’t share information about yourself or your family.

  • Buy time. Repeat the caller’s request, say you are writing it down or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.

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

  • Contact local law enforcement immediately.

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