LAGUNA BEACH, CA (KCAL/KCBS/CNN) - Southern California police said scammers are hitting a new low, and it’s a con they want parents to know about. It involves children who’ve allegedly been kidnapped.
One woman made a big payment because she thought she was helping rescue her daughter.
“Honestly, it was the most horrific thing that’s happened to me in my life,” said Andrea, who declined to provide her last name.
A phone call last month was from Andrea’s 19-year-old daughter; she was sure of it.
The panicked voice was Audrey, who was far away at college at the University of Oregon.
“It was a nightmare from the beginning, hearing my daughter a voice, screaming for help that she was in a van,” she said.
But it was not Audrey on the phone at all, although the Irvine mother didn’t know it for six and a half terrifying hours.
Police said the criminals who orchestrate these virtual kidnappings - and there have been several reported in Orange County - use the voice of a male or female screaming.
Parents in a panic hear danger and then comply with demands for money to get their child back.
“I said, I’m going to call police.’ Then one gentleman said, ‘Andrea, this is a kidnapping. We have Audrey. Here is what is going to happen. If you want to see her again, you’re going to get us money,’” she said.
So for hours, Andrea zigzagged in her car in four cities, making withdrawals as a pair of men screamed and swore at her.
She said the suspects said there would be trouble if she hung up the cell phone.
“We didn’t know anything about that,” she said.
Following orders, Andrea brought thousands of dollars to Santa Ana, making a money transfer to Mexico.
She wired more money from another business, and then the last thousand was done at a Rite Aid in Newport Beach. She sent $4,500 dollars in all.
“I want to let all parents know if a phone call comes through from a number they don’t recognize, do not answer that call,” she said.
If you get a call like that, you should be suspicious if the call does not come from the alleged kidnapping victim’s phone and if the caller tries to prevent you from hanging up and contacting the victim.
Here are more tips from police:
- 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 and try to remain calm.
- 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.
- Attempt to contact the kidnapped victim via phone, text, messaging app or social media.
- Ask to speak to the victim. Ask questions only they would know.
- Ask the caller to call back using the victim’s phone.