The con artists carried out their scheme using the Zelle payment app for a reason. The money disappeared from the account of 19-year-old Christian Valdez as quickly as the threatening texts and phone calls could come in.
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"If you don't pay this amount, I'll murder you and your family," Valdez recalls the text reading.
The con artists first demanded small amounts, but then the amounts grew bigger and bigger.
With his mother by his side, Valdez broke down what happened.
"He kept texting me and harassing me about I need this much, I need this much, I need another amount," he said.
The text came with gruesome photos of what would happen to Valdez if he didn't give in to the demands.
"He sent me videos of people getting shot and getting chopped up," said Valdez.
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"I'm making the payment," texted Valdez. "You promise to leave me and my family alone."
Sergeant Christian Carmarillo of the San Jose Police Department says the best defense is to cut off communication immediately.
"As simple as blocking someone from your cell phone. That solves 99.9% of these problems," Sergeant Carmarillo said.
Sounds simple now, but at the time, Valdez says all he could think about was saving his family.
"I was just frozen in fear. I didn't know what to do," he admitted.
It wasn't until he had drained all his money from his bank account in one week's time that he sought help.
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He lost, in all, $10,000 in one week.
The scam artist demanded he turn over another $6,000.
Valdez finally told his mom.
"I was upset. I was crying. I was frustrated," said Mary Jane Valdez.
She knew right away her son had been scammed.
"He really thought his life was threatened. He thought his family, he thought someone was going to come knock on our door and kill us in the middle of the night," she said.
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"If you are receiving a very direct threat saying, 'Hey, we're coming after you. We're going to kill you.' Please call 911. Report that to your local police department. Let them do the investigating, tracking down the phone number, try to find out who it is, et cetera," said Sergeant Carmarillo.
Valdez has filed a police report and has also submitted a fraud report to his bank, Chase.
Chase told him there was nothing it could do to get his money back because he authorized the transaction.
The bank tells 7 On Your Side customers who receive threatening messages should contact law enforcement and not engage with scammers to avoid losing funds.
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Jeff Blyskal is with Consumer Checkbook.
"This is kind of the grey area between cash, you know, paper money, and digital money. Digital money can be tracked easily. Cash cannot be tracked. That's why criminals like to work in cash," said Blyskal.
He thinks it's time for Congress and federal regulators to take a harder look at the technological advances in exchanging money.
"These days electronic stuff moves faster than regulations and regulators and congresspeople. So yeah, these things take time to happen but, yeah, I would agree, there should be protections," he said.
The Valdez family says they just want to warn the public these things are going on so what happens to Christian doesn't happen again.
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Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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