COSTA MESA (CBSLA.com) — Officials are warning the public about a sophisticated phone scam that seeks to extort money out of unsuspecting victims.
The scammer tells the target that a loved one is in danger and that if the target sends money, the loved one’s life will be spared.
In a story Only on CBS2, one recent victim spoke to Stacey Butler about her ordeal and how she was able to turn the tables on the scam artist.
“I’m still scared right now,” the woman told Butler.
She was too afraid to show her face on camera.
“I say hello, who’s this?’ They say, ‘Thank God you answered the phone.'”
While the victim is still scared, she wanted people to know about the scam that almost caused her to empty her bank account in an attempt to save her sister’s life.
It happened while she was driving on Harbor Boulevard through Costa Mesa.
The caller told her, ‘A family member of yours has been in an accident.'”
The woman said she panicked and asked, “Is it my sister?”
The caller told her “Yes.”
He then added, “She is bleeding out right now. And if you want to see them, you have to send me money.'”
The victim was so distraught she pulled her car over. She spotted a police officer and flagged him down.
“He’s getting out of the car. He’s walking out on my passenger side. And I’m just kinda putting my finger up to my lips. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet,” the victim said.
When the officer heard the conversation on the woman’s speaker phone, he called for backup. He also told her to stay on the phone.
The victim and the officer communicated via notes, such as “Call [my] sister now.'”
Within minutes, police determined the woman’s sister was unharmed.
The detective scribbled a note that said to ‘Hang up, say the call was dropped.'”
Lt. Greg Scott said the call wasn’t coming from where the woman’s sister lives.
“He was phoning her remotely from Puerto Rico,” Scott said.
Officials say the suspect used an app that spoofs cell phone numbers — to make it look like he was calling from different US locales familiar to the victim.
Authorities say the victim wasn’t the first target.
Butler says a rash of so-called spoofing crimes is now plaguing Orange County residents living in the 949 area code.
“These suspects will gain some type of identifying information about a relative before making a call and they’ll do that using social media,” Scott said.