Central Coast residents warned about ‘virtual kidnapped’

November 1, 2016

Santa Barbara sheriffThe Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is warning Central Coast residents about the growing trend of “virtual kidnapping” schemes. Extortion calls by virtual kidnappers have been attempted in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties as recently as September and October, sheriff officials say.

Virtual kidnapping schemes typically involve an individual or criminal organization contacting a victim by telephone and demanding payment for the return of a “kidnapped” friend or relative. The callers often use co-conspirators to convince victims of the legitimacy of the threat. For example, a caller may attempt to convince a victim that his daughter was kidnapped by having a young female scream for help in the background.

At times, the callers represent themselves as members of a drug cartel or corrupt law enforcement. They typically instruct the victim to make a ransom payment by way of a wire transfer.

Criminals also use social media to gather information about their victims, as well as to track them. The sheriff’s office is reminding the public to be cautious regarding the amount of personal information they post on social media.

In order to avoid being scammed by virtual kidnappers, residents should know calls do not come from the “kidnapped” person’s phone; calls come from an outside area code; callers go to great lengths to keep people on the phone; callers try to prevent the victim from contacting the “kidnapped” person; and callers demand ransom money via wire transfer, not in person.

If residents receive a virtual kidnapping call, they should hang up the phone, immediately contact family members and notify law enforcement, sheriff’s officials say.