LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation says that a violent extortion scheme is on the rise, in which a caller claims that someone you know has just been kidnapped.
Through the years, FOX 11 has reported on numerous extortion schemes after the fact, never while it's in progress. But that's exactly what was captured on camera recently while our news crew was covering a completely different story.
Maria Valdovinos walked up to reporter Gina Silva and photographer Armando Hernandez panicking and struggling to breathe. She was holding a phone and placed the call on speaker. On the line, was a man who was brutally describing how he was going to torture her friend if she didn't wire him $5,000 immediately. With her permission, the crew videotaped the exchange and told her not to send any money.
While she stayed on the line with the man, Silva checked on the status of her friend.
Once FOX 11 was able to confirm her friend was safe, Silva told the caller, "No one has been kidnapped" and asked, "Why are you calling and scaring her?"
Once he was confronted about the scam, the caller hung up the phone immediately.
"This is one of the most under-reported crimes that the FBI is investigating right now. People are not reporting it. People don't understand the crime, some law enforcement don't understand the crime and so it's under-reported and it's on the increase," FBI Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot said.
The FBI has investigated thousands of cases across the country. Arbuthnot said they know exactly where most of the calls are coming from.
"The people making the phone calls are prisoners, prisoners in foreign countries, prisoners in Mexico," he said.
Arbuthnot said if you ever get a call that your loved one has been kidnapped, the best thing to do, is to not engage.
"The FBI is confident that if we tell everyone to hang up the phone that it's going to put a stop to this," said Arbuthnot.
If you ever get a similar call, hang up, find your loved one and report the incident to law enforcement.