Ventura police warn of virtual kidnapping scams

VENTURA, Calif. (KABC) -- Ventura Police Department officials say they're seeing an increase in virtual kidnapping extortion calls in the city of Ventura.

According to a police department press release released Saturday, there have been multiple reported incidents targeting Spanish speakers.

The scammer contacts the victim via telephone and demands payment for the return of a "kidnapped" family member or loved one. While no actual kidnapping has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat, police said. For example, a caller might attempt to convince a victim that his daughter was kidnapped by having a young female scream for help in the background during the call.

Scammers sometimes say they're members of a drug cartel from Mexico targeting victims with family in Mexico. They will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to ensure the safe return of the alleged kidnapped individual.

The instructions usually involve demands of a ransom payment most often by wire transfer or prepaid cards.

Ventura PD officials said they want to remind the public to be cautious on the amount of personal information being posted on social media because criminals often use that to gather information and track potential victims.

Possible scam indicators include:

  • 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 excessive phone calls.

  • Incoming calls made from an outside area code.

  • Demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer, not in person.

Ventura police advise that if you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim and you suspect it is a scam, hang up the phone and immediately contact family members.
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