Virtual Kidnapping scam in Kern County

Posted at 4:25 PM, Feb 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-01 19:28:22-05

On February 1st, 2016 at about 2:28 pm, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a possible kidnapping victim being held for ransom. The information was relayed to the Sheriff’s Office by a person familiar with the alleged victim. The person relaying the information indicated they had received a phone call from an unknown suspect who had instructed the person to obtain money in exchange for the release of the kidnap victim or the victim would be harmed.

Deputies responded to the area of Oswell Street and Bernard Street in east Bakersfield where the reporting party had arrived to obtain money from a bank. Deputies were able to make contact with the reporting party, and after further investigation, determined the reporting party had been the victim of a scam known as virtual kidnapping. Deputies were able to make contact with the alleged victim and determined she had not been kidnapped and was safe.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the virtual kidnapping scam is a scam that involves suspects obtaining personal information from targeted victims, usually via the internet. The suspects then contact the targeted victim by telephone and advise the victim that a family member or close friend is being held hostage for ransom. The suspects then attempt to have the victim wire money to them for the safe release of the alleged victim. Some calls feature screaming in the background to convince a victim of the authenticity of an abduction, according to a recent report by the FBI.

Most of the calls originate from Mexico and often target Mexican nationals and Hispanics. The phone number used in today’s attempt scam was 664-381-1611, which is a common number often associated with this scam.

The following information on how to avoid becoming the victim of this scam is provided by the FBI:

Avoid Becoming a Victim of Virtual Kidnapping

For criminals, the success of any type of virtual kidnapping depends on speed and fear. They know they only have a short time to exact a ransom payment before the victims and their families unravel the scam or authorities become involved.

To avoid becoming a victim, look for these possible indicators:

  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone, insisting you remain on the line.
  • Calls do not come from the victim’s phone.
  • Callers try to prevent you from contacting the “kidnapped” victim.
  • Multiple successive phone calls.
  • Incoming calls made from an outside area code.
  • Demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer, not in person; ransom demands may drop quickly.

If you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, the following course of action should be considered:

  • Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
  • Ask questions only the victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about you or your family.
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak.
  • Attempt to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
  • To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
  • Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.

This investigation is ongoing. If you have any information on this investigation, or have recently received a similar type call, please contact the Sheriff’s Office at 661-861-3110.

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