The Rockville Centre Police Department is alerting the public to a frightening scam that is targeting individuals nationwide. In the scheme, individuals call claiming to have kidnapped a family member, claim that they have been involved in a traffic accident with a family member or claim that they are a law enforcement official stating that their family member has been arrested and needs money for bail. While no actual kidnapping, traffic accident or arrest has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat. For example, a caller might attempt to convince a victim that her husband or son had gotten into a car accident with a member of a gang. The individual calling pretends to be a friend or relative of the gang member and tells the victim that their family member is seriously injured and needs to go to the hospital but that their friend will not allow them to go the hospital until he gets paid for the damages done to his vehicle. In another 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. Often the reason they are holding the alleged victim varies, but some of the most prominent scams involve car accidents, drug debts, gang assaults, or persons being smuggled across the border. Victim telephone numbers appear to be dialed at random. Callers will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to ensure safe return of their family member. In some cases, these instructions involve demands of a ransom payment. Callers are ordered to stay on the phone until the money is wired, often to a third party that is awaiting the money. The callers can sound very convincing when they call. Most schemes use various techniques to instill a sense of fear, panic, and urgency in an effort to rush the victim into making a very hasty decision. Instructions usually require the ransom payment be made immediately and typically by wire transfer using legitimate wire transfer companies. The requested ransom payments are for varied amounts, usually between $600 to $1,900. In addition, once a payment is made, the alleged kidnappers often claim the money was not received and tells the victims that they need to wire additional money. The perpetrators of this scam can be either male or female. The Rockville Centre Police Department, in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, continually seeks preventive measures to ensure the public is both safe and well informed. We encourage the community to immediately contact the police if they encounter any calls that require a ransom for kidnapping, traffic accidents, payment for bail or any other reason. To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:
- Incoming calls come from an unknown or anonymous number
- Calls do not come from the kidnapped, injured or arrested victim’s phone
- Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone
- Callers prevent you from calling or locating the family member that are calling about
- Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service or pre-paid gift cards
If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped, inured or arrested victim, the following should be considered:
- Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?” * If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
- Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped, injured or arrested victim if they speak.
- Attempt to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
- While staying on the line with caller, try to call the alleged kidnapped, inured or arrested victim from another phone.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
- Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
- Request the kidnapped, injured or arrested victim call back from his/her cell phone. If you believe you are the victim of a real kidnapping, call 911 immediately.