Kidnapping phone scams target Oakland school families: Here's what you need to know

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Thursday, November 16, 2023
Kidnapping phone scams target Bay Area school families
The Oakland Unified School District is alerting families to a kidnapping phone call scam that several families have received this year.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- On Wednesday morning, the Oakland Unified School District alerted families to a kidnapping phone call scam.

"Telling someone that (they've) kidnapped their child and that (they) are not going to give them back, unless that person gives them money. It's really a grotesque thing to do to anybody," says John Sasaki, Communications Director for the Oakland Unified School District.

He says one family got a call this week. Another family got a similar call earlier this month. Several more scam kidnapping calls have been reported this school year.

"And they even had a child's voice, or child-like voice, in the background saying, 'Please don't hurt me,' or something to that effect. So, it was a pretty realistic threat," explains Sasaki.

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Sasaki says the family, who got the call this week, immediately called the school and learned that their child was safe. The school then notified the district, which alerted the police.

He says there are no patterns of targeting any one school or geographic location in the city. But that it has been mostly elementary school families.

"We want our families to really be aware and have all the tools that they need to ensure that they can get through a situation like this safely," he says.

The district sent out an email with suggestions for what to do:

If your child is absent, the school will call you

Write down the phone number

Write any another traits of the caller

Then, call the school and police

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Professor Lisa Hill teaches criminal justice at Cal State East Bay and has done a lot of work around human trafficking.

"Usually, a cue is if these scammers are calling from a blocked number. Because true kidnappers are probably going to call from the child's phone, as verification," says Dr. Hill.

She also says:

It's important for families to have these conversations with their children, even those in high school

If you get a call, do ask to speak to the child

Have a family code word

"If in fact this a real kidnapper, the parent can say, 'Have my child give you the code word,'" she says.

Sasaki says all the calls have been scams. No child has been kidnapped and no ransoms paid.

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