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'Virtual kidnapping' phone scam targets the Central Coast - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

'Virtual kidnapping' phone scam targets the Central Coast

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A new scam is targeting the Central Coast at an increasing rate and some locals have shelled out money to criminals because of it.

The FBI calls it "virtual kidnapping." Here's how it works: a stranger calls you and says they have your loved one and they'll kill them unless you pay up.

Kim and Mark Yowler of Lompoc say most of their family received phone calls from an unknown number out of Mexico, but they never expected what they'd hear on the other line.

"It was a girl crying and it sounded like it could have been my daughter in pain or scared," said Kim.

An unknown man told Kim he was part of the Mexican mafia.

"This guy said, 'I have your daughter hostage,'" said Kim.

The man said Kim needed to pay thousands of dollars to get her daughter back.

"My coworker then called 911 and my other coworker called my daughter for me," said Kim.

Luckily, the couple knew it was a scam before they sent any money.

The Yowlers are not alone. Lompoc police say it happened to another woman on Saturday. She was ready to pull money out of an ATM.

"They had received a phone call from somebody who had kidnapped her daughter. They were going to kill her if she didn't pay her a certain amount of money. After a few phone calls were made, we found out the lady's daughter was perfectly fine here in town with another family member," said Sgt. Corey Cox, Lompoc Police Department.

Police say the scam isn't just local, it's a nationwide epidemic.

Many residents either have a missed call from a Mexico number or know someone who received the call. Ginger Piper says she didn't pick up the phone after hearing about a friend's experience on Facebook.

"She was quite scared, she believed them. She quickly handed the phone to a coworker who pretended to be her, she went into the other room and called the person who did, indeed, have her child," said Ginger Piper, a Lompoc resident.

Police say criminals are evolving and know how to get the information to pull at your heartstrings. Their advice is to stay calm, get as much information as you can from the caller, call the police, and call your loved one to make sure they're safe.

"Many times after money is sent - because people do fall victim to this scam - shortly after they contact the person who they believed was kidnapped and they're able to talk to that person right away on the phone," said Sgt. Cox.

The numbers that scammers use to make the calls are called 'spoof' numbers and police say they are virtually untraceable.

Lompoc police say criminals are often good at finding personal information like phone numbers, email addresses, and family names on social media. They ask that people are cautious about what they put online so they don't become a future target.

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