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How to protect yourself from a virtual scam

Posted at 7:29 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-02 22:29:09-05

The local man who was a victim of what police are calling a virtual kidnapping talked to 23ABC today and told us about the phone call he said he received on Monday. 

The man asked not to be identified and asked for his voice to be disguised while on video because he fears he can be scammed again.

He said he answered his personal phone when it rang and heard a woman screaming on the other side. 

“I answered it and it was a hysterical woman and I couldn’t understand what she was saying or anything," said the victim. 

He said he called out the name of a family member who he thought it sounded like and that's when a male suspect got on the phone and said he had kidnapped his loved one. Then told the victim he would have to pay a ransom before they released his loved one. 

"I said, 'I ain't got no money,' 'Well how much money can you get right now?' And I gave him a number and he said 'OK, go get it,'" said the victim.

The victim said he grabbed out his work phone and dialed 911. He said the suspect wouldn't let him off the phone so he just let 911 listen in to the conversation and headed toward the bank in east Bakersfield.

He said the suspects claimed they were tracking him through his cell phone and if he went anywhere than where they told him to go, they would kill his loved one. 

The Kern County Sheriff's Office said when they 911 call came in they believed they were facing a legitimate kidnapping. 

"We didn’t know at that point if anybody was watching him, if he was being watched, if there were suspects in the area," said Ray Pruitt from the sheriff's department. 

Deputies showed up with guns drawn and surrounded the area. 

Soon after, officials were able to locate the alleged kidnapping victim and discovered she was at work, unharmed and had never been kidnapped.

KCSO said the number that called the victim was 664-381-1611, a number they said is associated with this scam. 

Pruitt said this was the first time they had heard of this kind of scam in Kern County, but warns people need to be aware. 

In a press release from the sheriff's office they released tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of a scam and what to do if you receive a virtual kidnapping call.

"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."

FBI supervisory special agent, Jose Moreno said people need to protect themselves from the start. 

“It is important and vital that they do not give up away any more information than they probably already have given up. Do not commit in anyway to any amount that they might be demanding in terms of a ransom payment," said Moreno. 

If you become a victim of an international kidnapping scam/extortion, virtual or real, Moreno said it is important you immediately contact the FBI at 661-323-9665.