MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KTVU) - An elaborate Bay Area kidnapping phone scam has fooled dozens of people who have given up thousands of dollars. The victims range from someone at an auto body shop to a CEO in Silicon Valley.
The callers claim to be holding the receiver of the call's loved ones for ransom. In some cases they even provide photos just to convince you the danger is real.
For the CEO, it was a terrifying call. The caller claimed his sister had caused a car crash. The alleged victim wanted money and said they were holding his sister until they got it.
In his panic, the CEO didn't realize it was a scam.
"I think initially if they pick up the phone, it's the panicked voice on the other end with a name or information about a loved one that very few would know and it appears real," said Katie Nelson with Mountain View Police.
Mountain View Police say the photos likely come from social media, the details from the "dark web."
Victims are told to stay on the phone, while they take out the money.
"You can't call your loved one necessarily, you can't call the police. They say if you hang up, they're going to do something to your loved one," Nelson said.
Mountain View has had three of these cases, but nationwide there have been dozens more. The FBI even issued an alert on the subject.
"Oh yeah this is all over the country. This is not particular to our area. Though we have heard from several other agencies that this is a problem."
Vacaville Police just had another victim this week. And while that man, an auto body worker, did not lose any money, the CEO did.
He wired the scammers $1,000 from the Mountain View Walmart.
It wasn't until after that he found out the callers never had his sister at all.
Mountain View Police say there are few leads in these cases and the victims seem to be chosen at random.
Their best advice: "First and foremost, don't pick up the phone."