Ransom Calls from PR Alarm Locals

Residents in the Metro Area have been receiving threatening phone calls demanding money to save the life of a loved one. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario-La Prensa)

Residents in the Metro Area have been receiving threatening phone calls demanding money in order to save the life of a loved one. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario-La Prensa)

A string of cases are popping up in New York and New Jersey where people receive threatening phone calls – mostly from Puerto Rico – where the caller urges them to send money in exchange for protecting the life of a loved one.

The majority of victims do not report these incidents to the authorities due to the trauma they suffer. “It’s something that you don’t even want to remember out of fear,” emphasized one of the victims, a New Jersey resident who received a phone call two weeks ago and preferred to remain anonymous.

“I don’t dare report it because I’m genuinely afraid that something might happen to my relatives in Puerto Rico,” she added. She described how a person in Puerto Rico called her parents, who are over 80, claiming to be a former classmate who wanted to get in touch with her again. That is how the perpetrator got her number in the U.S. The rest just meant looking up a bit more information on her on Facebook.

“The person who called knew what was my nickname, where I lived, where I worked, and other details that made me believe it was true,” said the woman. “They demanded a certain amount of money that I was able to negotiate and pay by wire transfer to later realize that everything had been an extortion.”

This sort of scam isn’t new for the authorities of the metropolitan area, according to a spokesperson from the New York Police Department. The NYPD is currently investigating a similar case that happened on August 23 in which a 52-year-old Latino man received a phone call demanding a $1,300 wire transfer in exchange for saving his son’s life.

According to the official report, the perpetrator first informed the victim, who lives in Brooklyn, that his 30-year-old son had been involved in a car accident and kidnapped. The son simultaneously received another phone call demanding a ransom in order to free one of his brothers.

The son sent money (he did not reveal the exact amount) to Puerto Rico through a wire transfer service; meanwhile, the father was able to realize in time that they were dealing with a case of fraud.

Officer Karen Lee Torres, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Police Department, said the majority of calls that come from the island, are dialed from pre-paid phone from jails.

“There isn’t a law requiring people to register pre-paid cell phones, which makes it difficult to trace the identity of whoever bought the cell phone from where the calls are being made,” said Torres.

She went on to explain that arrests have been made in connection with these kinds of scams when the criminals have gone to cash in the money their victims have sent them. However, she said that an exact number of arrests doesn’t exist.

According to the authorities, the lion’s share of the calls are made at random, and perpetrators only look for gullible people who get scared and send them money out of desperation, without realizing it’s a hoax.

Special agent Moisés Quiñonez, who works with the FBI of Puerto Rico, advised that citizens be aware and stay calm.

“In general, 99 percent of the calls aren’t true. So far, we don’t have knowledge of any cases that turned violent,” he said.

A spokesperson from the police department in Hoboken, N.J., confirmed they received four reports over the past year which are currently under investigation. He warned the public to not fall prey to these “thieves.”

In one of the cases reported in Hoboken, a 41-year-old woman received a phone call in April from the 551 area code (northern New Jersey) where the person demanded $2,000 in cash in exchange for not killing her brother.

The perpetrator ordered the woman to send the money by wire transfer. After she received the call, with the help of the police, she managed to track down her three brothers and verify that they weren’t in any danger.

In September 2012 over a two-week period, three Hoboken residents notified authorities that they received calls from the 787 area code, which belongs to Puerto Rico.

According to the record, the criminals in all three cases demanded an average of $2,000 to be sent through Western Union.

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