2016-09-30 / Community

Kidnapping phone scam making rounds in Simi

By Michael Aushenker

Simi Valley Unified School District Superintendent Jason Peplinski has alerted campus principals about a persistent phone scam.

The ruse involves the caller pretending to have kidnapped the target’s child then attempting to exact ransom money.

Peplinski told the Simi Valley Acorn that this scam has been happening throughout California for several months, prompting him to issue the warning.

“We have had literally dozens of parents (report) receiving the call but have no way of knowing how many parents have actually received the call because they may not have reported it to us,” Peplinski said.

His email to the principals included the following: “If you should have a parent receive this call, they should attempt to keep them on the line and call police on another line” to report the incident.

Peplinski did not issue a districtwide message to parents, instead asking administrators to inform parents should they receive such a call.

In an Aug. 30 statement issued through public alert system Nixle, the Simi Valley Police Department said the scam begins with a telephone call to an unsuspecting victim.

“During the call the kidnapper claims to have taken a family member and threatens to kill that person unless ransom is paid,” the statement reads. “Most of these complaints are resolved immediately as they are obvious scams. There have, however, been a few incidents where the alleged kidnapper had enough correct information to create concern on the part of the victim.”

The kidnapper then orders the victim to bring money or wire it to a predetermined location, police said. The kidnapper will provide specific directions and make victims feel as though they are being watched.

“It’s not anything new,” SVPD Dep. Chief Joseph May told the Acorn.

“There are different variations of these kinds of telephone fraud and scams going on,” including scams falsely claiming to be from the IRS or promising inheritances and accessible foreign bank accounts, he said.

May said the police department is picky about what they issue as public warnings.

“We have to balance when we get information on this,” he said, adding that those who have phoned the department regarding the kidnapping scam have not been duped by the blackmail attempt but rather just expressed concern about the scheme.

May stressed that the best way to counter such scams is through awareness and public education. He essentially prescribed the application of common sense and, above all, information protection.

“Do things to protect your identity and your information because the more information the scammers are armed with, the more they can lead you to believe it’s legitimate,” he said. “When someone is calling the house, they know who they’re calling, but we don’t know who is calling us. Never give information out.”

And, if someone’s far-fetched kidnapping claim seems plausible, the recipient of the call can ask for a phone number to return the call after verifying with a loved one where said “missing kid” is located.

“They should probably use means and tactics to determine information from other sources,” May said.

More likely, it’s just a boilerplate bunco department scam that should be reported.

“Notifying us is good because if it’s something new, we can alert the public,” he said.

SVPD maintains a fraud information line at (805) 583-6170 with a recorded message updating callers on recent phone scam activity.

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