Sunday, April 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 7

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 14th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 15

'Virtual kidnapping' scam puts Nipomo school on lockdown


Law enforcement officials quickly mobilized and locked down a Nipomo elementary school in response to the suspected kidnapping of a young girl.

The only problem was there was no actual kidnapping.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office were continuing to investigate the incident, which they called a “virtual” kidnapping, warning members of the public to be vigilant and avoid being caught up in similar scams.

It began June 9, when a female Nipomo resident contacted sheriff’s deputies to report what she believed was a kidnapping in progress. The woman told investigators that she’d received a phone call from an unknown man, who told her that her young daughter had been kidnapped. The man on the phone instructed the woman to proceed to a bank in Nipomo and withdraw $50,000 in ransom money.

According to a statement by the Sheriff’s Office issued shortly after the incident, deputies responded to Dorothea Lange Elementary School in Nipomo, where the child was enrolled. As a safety precaution, the school was placed on lockdown around 11:43 a.m., according to a statement from the SLO County Sheriff’s Office. During the lockdown, sheriff’s deputies were able to make contact with the girl at the school and confirmed that she’d never been kidnapped. The lockdown at the school was lifted at 12:20 p.m. after the girl and her mother were reunited.

According to sheriff’s officials, the incident was an example of a new and concerning type of telephone extortion scam, dubbed “virtual kidnapping” by the law enforcement community.

The FBI has been trying to warn the public about virtual kidnapping scams since 2014. The goal of the scam, according to the FBI, is to instill fear, panic, and urgency in the victim, and to goad them into making a hasty decision to cooperate and give them the money. Signs that a call may be a virtual kidnapping scam include the perpetrators making multiple successive calls from an outside area code, callers preventing victims from speaking to their allegedly kidnapped loved one during the call, and a demand to wire ransom money instead of handing it off in person.

Both the SLO Sheriff’s Office and the FBI urge anyone who thinks they may be the victims of a similar scams to contact local law enforcement.

As of June 12, no suspects had been arrested in connection with the incident in Nipomo, and the investigation remains ongoing. If a perpetrator is caught, it’s unlikely they would be charged with a kidnapping-related crime.

“Since no actual abduction took place, most likely the suspect would be charged with a fraud related crime,” said SLO Sheriff’s Spokesman Tony Cipolla.

Correction: This article has been edited to correct the dates cited.

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