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Town of Tonawanda PD investigating "virtual kidnapping" scam

Posted at 1:31 PM, Feb 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 18:26:06-05

A woman and her son were targeted by scammers using a "virtual kidnapping" phone scam, according to Town of Tonawanda Police.

Police are investigating two "nearly simultaneous", separate phone calls to a Tonawanda woman and her son.  The calls were made around 2:30 on Sunday afternoon.  According to police, the callers told the mother her son was involved in a car accident and she needed to send $10,000.  An identical demand was made to the son.

According to police, the calls originated from Puerto Rico and Florida respectively, but were likely done in coordination with each other.

Captain Joseph Carosi of the Town of Tonawanda Police said this is a variation on similar phone scams that have been going on for years.

"This is another in a series of elaborate phone scams that have been going on for the past several years," he said.

Carosi said the mother knew her son wasn't involved in an accident and thought the call was a hoax, but after hanging up the calls didn't stop.  The caller told the mother they had her son with them and would hurt him if she didn't send a ransom, according to the police report.

"[The callers] were threatening that they would shoot her and her son if they didn't give any money to them," Carosi said.

Town of Tonawanda Police are asking the public to be aware of these scams in the community and say the first thing to do is contact your local department.

Carosi also encouraged people to make sure their social media information is kept private and only visible to friends.  He says the more information available to the general public, the more believable scammers are able to make these types of phone calls.  That makes it even easier to fall victim, Carosi said.

"A lot of times the information being gleaned about people is being taken right off the internet," he said.  "Right off social media sites."

Police also say it is important to remain calm and remember the likelihood of these phone calls being anything more than a scam is "very slim".