Providence police alert public to kidnapping scam

Providence police say scammers are using social media as part of an elaborate ransom scam. (MGN)

A kidnapping scam hits Rhode Island.

Police said crooks are using social media and a victim's own voice to get money from loved ones.

The kidnapping scam starts with a phone call. Scammers will call the victim and ask specific questions, while secretly recording the victim's responses.

Providence police Detective Capt. Michael Correia said the scammers ask generic questions to not raise suspicion.

"What they're trying to elicit from you is your voice, 'I'm OK.' That type of stuff. Reassuring, but yet a sense of urgency," said Correia, describing how the scammers lure the victims to speak while being recorded.

Then, the scammers call a family member or friend of the victim and make up an elaborate story about the victim being in a car accident.

They play clips of the victim's previously recorded voice on the call to make it appear like the car accident is real.

"I think it's believable based on we've talked to victims after, and it's quite believable," said Correia. "They use your own voice, and I think it becomes quite believable because you hear a family members' voice."

After hearing the voice, scammers tell the family they won't release the victim from the car accident until money is wired, and they use information gained from the victim's social media account to make the details and situation seem real.

Police said the scammers ask anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000.

"I think that's the common denominator," said Correia. "They have some information off the internet and they get the ball going. And before you know it, you're in too deep."

Police said in all cases where the scammers have been successful, the victims believed the hoax too soon.

"If you get a phone call that is suspicious and you don't know the phone number and it starts, 'We have somebody and there's been an accident.' Or, 'We have your loved one.' Slow down. Slow the process down. Call the police. Before you go to the bank or go home and get money and wire it, call the police," said Correia.

So far, about five victims in Rhode Island have lost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Police have traced the phone calls to Puerto Rico, but have no suspects yet in mind.

Providence police said anyone who's been a victim of a similar incident should call them at the emergency line at 401-272-1111 or the non-emergency line at 401-272-3121.

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