The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office is warning the public about a spike in "virtual kidnapping" extortion calls in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Sheriff's officials say the scam involves a person or criminal organization contacting a victim by phone and demanding payment for the return of a "kidnapped" family member or friend, though no kidnapping has occurred. Callers sometimes represent themselves as members of a drug cartel or corrupt law enforcement and, officials say, can be very convincing.
They say criminals often use social media to gather information and track potential victims.
Attempts at this scheme have been reported on the Central Coast as recently as September and October.
To avoid becoming a victim of the scam, the Sheriff's Office says you should watch out for the following:
Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone, insisting you remain on the line
Calls do not come from the "kidnapped" victim's phone number
Callers try to prevent you from contacting the "kidnapped" victim
Multiple successive phone calls
Incoming calls made from an outside area code
Demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer, not in person
If you receive a phone call like this that you believe to be a scam, Sheriff's officials say you should hang up the phone, immediately contact family members, and notify your local law enforcement.