'Virtual kidnapping' scam targets Orange County parents for ransom

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Orange County parents are on alert amid a "virtual kidnapping" scam.

Police said parents are receiving threatening calls claiming their children have been abducted and demanding thousands of dollars in exchange for their safe return.

The Laguna Beach Police Department said in about the last 24 hours, at least two Orange County families have reported being victims of the scam.

In one instance, a family paid thousands of dollars.

"He could overhear a voice of a female who he thought was his daughter. He was directed to go to a bank, retrieve $5,000 and then go to the city of Costa Mesa at a specific location and wire it," explained Sgt. Jim Cota.

The people behind the scam tell parents their children have been kidnapped and would be harmed if money isn't wired to a Mexican bank account, even though no one has been kidnapped, police said.

Police believe the suspects learned about their victims through social media. Parents are kept on the phone as long as possible in an attempt to deny them contacting their children, police said.

Authorities reached out to the Laguna Beach Unified School District and private schools in the area to inform parents.

Laguna Niguel woman Kathie Gross described the horrific moments she lived, believing her daughter was kidnapped. It started with a phone call from an unknown number.

"I was 100 percent convinced it was her. She said, 'Mom, mom, help me, I'm in trouble,'" Gross recalled.

But Gross said the scammer incorrectly identified her daughter Jordan as a boy. Still afraid, she hung up and frantically tried to get a hold of Jordan's school as she drove there.

"It was just absolute, complete terror. It was the worst moments of my life. I pulled into the school and they came running out. I mean, my wheels were screeching. I could've killed people on the way there, I mean, there's no doubt. I was ready to run a red light, and they came out and said they had her," Gross shared.

Gross made it a personal mission to warn other parents. It's been almost a year since it happened to her.

So what should you do if you get a phone call like this?

"Try to get a hold of the person while you can. You can put these people on speaker phone and still text the other person you're looking for, or (if) you decide to hang up the phone - if they do what they are saying, such as them being kidnappers -- they're going to call you back," Cota said.

Also, call police as soon as possible and watch what you post online, authorities warn.
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