The frightening specter of virtual, or fake, kidnappings has risen again in Santa Barbara County, the Sheriff’s Office reported today, as well as a new scam about jury duty. A “significant” number of the extortion schemes have been reported in the past several weeks in which the recipient of the call is stampeded into paying a ransom — often by wire transfer — while an organized group pretends to hold a relative captive. They attempt to frighten the recipient, sometimes by having a pretend victim scream in the background, and also to keep the person on the phone instead of letting them off to check on the actual whereabouts of their loved one, as as The Santa Barbara Independent described in an actual case narrative last December. Family information is often gleaned from social media posts.
Elements of the kidnap scam can also include: the call does not come from the victim’s phone, the caller keeps the recipient from contacting the victim, the call comes from an outside area code. The Sheriff’s Office states that if a scam is suspected, hang up, contact family members, and notify law enforcement. The FBI handles cases of virtual kidnapping and can be contacted at (310) 477-6565, or local police agencies can be called. Anonymous tips can be made to tips.fbi.gov.
Reports have also come into the Sheriff’s Office about a countywide scam involving a fake sheriff’s lieutenant — who sometimes provides a badge number — calling to say a bench warrant has been issued because the citizen failed to show up for jury duty. The caller offers to resolve it with a $2,000 prepaid credit card. The Sheriff’s Office states it never calls residents regarding warrants and never takes payment over the phone. It advises to never give personal or financial information over the phone. Scams can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-HELP (or 382-4357) and online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.