SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- It's the kind of terrifying scam that strikes right at the heart of parents: A parent receives a phone call from a person who says their child is being held hostage, and the stranger vows to harm or kill the child unless a ransom is paid.
San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies say this kidnapping scam happened to several people just last week.
"We want to emphasize to the public that this has been determined to be a new scam. We have no cases of confirmed kidnappings that have occurred at this time," said Jodi Miller of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
In a typical scenario, Miller says the suspects use personal knowledge about the child and tell parents not to call 911. The suspects claim they're monitoring police scanners and would know if law enforcement was notified.
"The suspects are actually using children as decoys as part of these conversations, and have the children crying in the background yelling for mommy or daddy that they need help," Miller said.
The victims are told to withdraw and wire anywhere from $500 to $5,000, which authorities say terrified parents are more than willing to do when unaware that their child is safe.
The caller keeps them on the phone until the transaction is done before the parent has a chance to call their child or double-check the caller's story. Later, parents or family members learn their child or relative was never kidnapped or in any harm in the first place.
The terrifying crime hits close to home for many parents.
"You don't know if it's real or not if someone is saying that to you," parent Jennifer Candler said. "That makes me scared also because how do you know my child's information?"
Anyone who has received a similar call or who may have further information on this scam is asked to call authorities at (909) 387-8313 or (760) 956-5001.