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Scammers fake kidnappings, demand ransom wire transfer in recent scheme

Two Bay Area agencies have issued warnings to the public this week about telephone scams, one of which is relatively familiar and another that includes a demand to pay a kidnapping ransom.

San Francisco police issued a warning about a string of phone scams in the category of “caller-ID spoofing,” in which the phone number displayed looks like it is coming from the Police Department. The caller asks either for donations or cites an outstanding warrant the recipient of the call needs to pay off immediately.

The scam warning from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office described a twist on the familiar approach.

Deputies there had a recent in-person encounter with a man who said he was on the phone with someone who claimed to have kidnapped his daughter. The caller demanded that the man remain on the phone — preventing him from checking on his daughter — and wire $6,000 to Mexico in exchange for the safe return for his daughter.

The man told deputies that the caller demanded he stay on the phone while carrying out the caller’s additional demands to drive to a Walmart to complete the wire transfer. The man then drove off to the store.

A news release from the sheriff’s office said deputies Lisa Bender and Erik Stavert were able to thwart the fraud, with some assistance from the San Leandro Police Department.

Deputies headed to the Walmart and notified dispatch, which sent units to the home of the daughter — the alleged kidnap victim — and confirmed she was safe and at home.

Deputies reached the concerned father — who was still on the line with the unknown caller who had demanded the ransom — at the store before any funds could be transferred.

When deputies attempted to communicate on the phone with the suspect, the caller disconnected the line.

Such scams happen more frequently than the public realizes, according to the sheriff’s office, which encourages anyone who receives such a call to contact their local law enforcement agency for help.

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