Petaluma police warn residents about telephone kidnapping scam

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Police in Petaluma are warning residents about a kidnap telephone scam that's become increasingly widespread.

Investigators said on Monday, a woman reported getting a call from someone who claimed he had abducted her 17-year-old daughter and would harm her if the mother did not send him ransom money.

A wellness check determined that the teen was safe and unharmed. She was located at her after-school sports practice, where she was supposed to be, according to police.

If you receive such a call, and your child is not with you, police said you should immediately try and verify his or her location and call police to report the incident.

Petaluma police said the latest scam provided opportunity to raise community awareness about a  frightening hoax that is becoming more prevalent across the country.

Sometimes the scammer will go as far as putting a child on the phone to pose as the victim's son or daughter.

Detectives said they believe scammers sometimes get personal and family information about potential victims from social media.

In other variations of the scam, the perpetrator will act like a lawyer or member of law enforcement and demand bail money for a loved one in custody, or the caller will act as a "hitman" claiming to be an assassin who has been contracted to kill the victim unless they pay the caller off, police said.

Investigators said many of the scams originate outside the country and use false phone numbers that make caller ID unreliable.

Police said being targeted like this can be extremely nerve-racking and scary, but urge people to never give out any personal information and never agree to meet with the caller or provide them with access to your bank account.