A Beverly Hills mother nearly became a victim of a ransom scam Wednesday when she was led to believe her 20-year-old daughter had been kidnapped, police say.
"I hear what sounds like my daughter hysterically crying, screaming, out of breath, like she's in duress," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. “I don't hear anything, she just continues to scream and then I barely can understand the words but I made a semblance of the fact that she was saying she was in a van and she was kidnapped, and I'm hysterical."
After receiving the call, the mother began screaming outside of Beverly Hills City Hall.
"I screamed so loudly that I couldn't breathe, and the more he told me to calm down, I wanted to shoot him, I wanted to kill him," the mother said.
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The alleged kidnapper told her to stay on her phone and drive to a bank to withdraw ransom money, which she did, but not before flagging down a city employee who then called police, said Sgt. Todd Withers of the Beverly Hills Police Department.
Officers investigating the 1:30 p.m. report located the woman at a Bank of America near Beverly Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard, Withers said.
“She was able to communicate to the officers via writing on paper that her daughter had been apparently been kidnapped and she provided her daughter's cellphone number,” Beverly Hills Police Lt. Lincoln Hoshino said.
Officers were able to confirm that the alleged kidnapping was a scam, and that the woman's daughter was safe, Withers said. The daughter had answered her phone calmly.
Police planned to conduct a forensic examination of the mother's cellphone to try to track down the caller. The phone number came up as “unknown” on her phone.
Police say it’s not the first time this type of scam has occurred in Beverly Hills and in surrounding areas. They suspect that this woman's experience was part of a nationwide scam in which people convince victims that a loved one is in danger, and demand money, but were unable to reveal more details about this specific incident.
Last month, the FBI warned of "virtual kidnapping," in which people are told their loved ones will die if they don't comply and send money.
"A virtual kidnapping traditionally is an extortion," said Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot.
Arbuthnot noted that particular scam was primarily targeting U.S. citizens traveling abroad.