Public Safety Related Message regarding Phone Kidnapping Scams

FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL: Cathedral City Police (760) 770-0300

Issuing Employee: Commander Paul Herrera – 760-770-0308 – pherrera@cathedralcity.gov
Type of Incident: Virtual Kidnapping Scam / Community Safety and Awareness

Date Reported: Sept 18, 2018
Location of Occurrence: Cathedral City and Coachella Valley

VICTIM INFORMATION:

Name:   Not for release
Age:     Not for release
City of Residence:  Not for release

Synopsis of Incident

This is a public safety-related message in response to the increasing number of virtual kidnapping scams. These are also known as cyber-kidnapping scams or phone kidnapping scams.

Virtual kidnapping and extortion scams are on the rise in the Coachella Valley. In these types of incidents, an unknown caller pretends to have kidnapped a relative or friend and immediately demands payment of a ransom. The person who answers the telephone is the victim.

Although these extortion schemes have been around for many years, the criminals’ tactics are becoming more sophisticated. Since the threat is continuing to evolve, the Cathedral City Police Department wants to raise public awareness to help individuals from becoming victims. One reason why the crime is becoming more prevalent is the scammers’ ability to collect information about individuals and their activities through social media networks. They know when an individual is going to be away from home and perhaps in a situation where they could be at risk. There are other incidents where they target a block of telephone numbers with specific area codes. They dial sequential numbers until the call is answered by someone they can shock into believing the scam. The caller’s approach is forceful, well-scripted and can be very convincing.

When the “kidnapper” uses a child’s name, a parent’s fear level escalates very quickly. The caller might have found the child’s name on social media or the parent might have unwittingly told the caller the child’s name. The caller relies on shock, speed and fear. Criminals know they have a small window of opportunity to extract a ransom before the victim realizes the scam or authorities become involved.

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

  • The call does not originate from the “kidnapped” person’s phone.
  • The caller goes to great lengths to keep you on the phone, so you can’t verify their claims.
  • The ransom money must be paid by wire, PayPal, MoneyGram or a similar third-party service.
  • The ransom amount quickly decreases if the parent or loved one resists.

If you receive a phone call from someone demanding ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, consider the following:

  • Hang up the phone. If you engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name. Try to slow the interaction.
  • Request to speak with your family member directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is OK?” Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.
  • Attempt to contact the “kidnapped” victim via phone, text, or social media, and request they call back from their own cell phone.
  • To buy time, repeat the caller’s requests and tell them you are writing down the demand or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
  • If you suspect an actual kidnapping is taking place, call the Cathedral City Police Department on 911 or immediately call your local law enforcement agency – before you provide any money.
  • If the caller is using an international phone number, please contact the local FBI office in Palm Springs at (760) 320-0800 or fbi.gov.

End of Media Release.

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