New Port Richey, Florida -- Imagine getting a phone call and someone says your son or daughter is being held for ransom. What would you do?
Pasco County deputies say chances are it's a scam and in some cases people are giving the criminal what they want hundreds and thousands of dollars.
Detective Chris Meizo, of the Economic Crimes Unit, says the victims may be randomly targeted because, in each case,the caller doesn't know any personal information.
The caller uses "Mr. or Ms." inititally anddetectives say it's the victim that often reveals their children's or spouse's names and the caller uses the information against them.
"They're playing on their emotion [that] somebody will do anything to protect their family or children," says Detective Chris Meizo.
In the scam the victims receive a call from the phone number 440-344-3562 which detectives sayis registered to a Jose Rodriguez in Ohio but originates from Puerto Rico.
The caller has a thick Spanish accent and gives each victim a similar scenario wherefamily member has been captured as a result of an accident and they're trying to get money to pay for damages in that accident.
"They identify themselves as gang bangers, drug dealers, and threaten that if the family does not cooperate with the instructions the family member will be killed," says Meizo.
In each case, the caller forces the victim to stay on the phone as they talk them through a wire transfer. Detectives say that was the case for a Pasco mother she transferred $300 from a local Publix to a woman in Puerto Rico to have her son freed.
The caller instructed her to pick up her son at Trinity Medical Center but when she arrives her son is not there. The woman learns he was safe at home all along.
Detectives are working with law enforcement in Puerto Rico to track the money transfers.
The sheriff's office says if you receive one of these calls do not give out any personal information, if you have a second phone try to contact your loved one to make sure they are safe. Detectives also suggest you use that second phone to call 911, continue the conversation with the caller, while the 911 operator figures out what is being said and dispatches a deputy to help you.