Costa Mesa police foiled an extortion scam Monday when a female motorist flagged down an officer because she feared a relative was in grave danger, the department announced.
The crying woman honked her horn and waved over traffic investigator Darren Wood about 9 a.m. near Harbor Boulevard and Hamilton Street, according to a news release from the Costa Mesa Police Department.
The driver was on her cell phone talking to a man who told her he'd abducted her sister after a car crash.
Wood was able to hear the conversation.
He contacted two nearby patrol officers, and the three began passing notes back and forth with the woman while she stayed on the phone.
She confirmed that the man on the phone had called and was threatening to hurt the sister unless he was wired money.
Police tried to contact the woman's sister but couldn't reach her by phone, according to the release.
Officers eventually confirmed that the sister was out of harm's way when they contacted campus security at a community college where the sister was in class.
Police then tried to track down the caller.
The man had reportedly called the woman from a Massachusetts number and asked if she had a sister.
Once she acknowledged she did, the suspect began demanding money in exchange for her protection from a gang member.
Detectives, however, tracked the call to Puerto Rico.
The department warns that scammers can make it appear as if their call is coming from a particular area or even a familiar number.
The tactic is often used in schemes like this meant to trick victims into wiring money to the caller, police said.
Police are still following up on this case and ask that anyone who has received similar calls contact the detective bureau at (714) 754-5205.