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Police Files

Two virtual kidnapping scams in 24 hours have Laguna parents on high alert

On Thursday, March 7, a Laguna Beach resident reported to LBPD that he had become the victim of a fraud involving the fake kidnapping of his daughter.  

“At 2:30 p.m., the victim received a cell phone call from a suspect who stated he had kidnapped the victim’s daughter and was holding her, and wanted $5,000 or he would kill her. The suspect ordered the victim to stay on the phone with him throughout the incident,” LBPD Spokesperson PIO Sgt Jim Cota said. “The victim became fearful for his daughter and after briefly hearing a female scream into the phone stating she had been kidnapped, he went to his bank and withdrew $5,000.”  

The victim was then directed to go to various wire transfer locations outside the city where he transferred the money to an account in Mexico.  

“At about 6:30 p.m., as the victim was completing the last transaction, he received a call from his daughter who was fine in Laguna Beach,” Sgt Cota said. “His daughter had not been kidnapped and had no knowledge of what was occurring.”

The father had just completed the last transaction and could not stop the transfer of the funds.

LBPD thwarts wire transfer in second virtual kidnapping scam

Then, the next day, on Friday, March 8, at 11:42 a.m., LBPD received another virtual kidnapping call similar to the one received on Thursday.

“The incident involved another Laguna Beach resident withdrawing money, however, we, LBPD, were able to intervene prior to the money being wired to an account in Mexico,” Sgt Cota said. “The resident contacted her daughter, who is a college student in Chicago and found out she was safe.”

“SRO Ashton created an information piece that was immediately sent to all of the schools in Laguna Beach, including private schools, for dissemination to the parents,” Sgt Cota said. “Two virtual kidnapping incidents within 24 hours is unacceptable. Luckily, we were able to stop the second one.”

The success of a virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they have a limited amount of time before the victim catches onto the scam or law enforcement gets involved.

If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe a ransom demand is a scam, please contact the Laguna Beach Police Department at (949) 497-0701.

Signs of a virtual scam:

--Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone, insisting you remain on the line

--Calls do not come from the supposed victim’s phone

--Callers try to prevent you from contacting the “kidnapped” victim

--Callers include demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfers to Mexico; ransom amount demands may drop quickly

If you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for your family member, the following should be considered:

--In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone

--If you don’t want to risk ending the call, drive to the nearest police station

--Try to remain calm and slow the situation down

--Do not share any information about your family during the call and don’t use the alleged victim’s name

--If you hear the a voice or screaming in the background, try to ascertain if it really is your child

--Attempt to contact the “kidnapped” victim via phone, text, a messaging app or social media to see where they are and if they are safe

--Ask to speak to the victim

--Ask questions that only the victim would know

--Ask the caller to call back using the victim’s phone

--Try to buy time by repeating the caller’s demands and telling the caller you need to write things down or need time to complete the transaction

--Don’t challenge or argue with the caller

--Write down the phone number the caller is calling from

For additional information, please contact School Resource Officer Cpl Cornelius Ashton at (949) 497-0773.