The FBI and local authorities are warning parents about two "virtual kidnapping" cases in which the suspects demanded a large ransom payment for the return of their child.
As it turns out, no one was abducted in either case. But it didn't stop one father from Laguna Beach, California from paying $5,000 to the suspect.
"At 2:30 pm, the victim received a cellphone call from a suspect who stated he had kidnapped the victim's daughter and was holding her and wanted $5,000 or he would kill her," Sgt. Jim Cota of the Laguna Police Department told The Orange County Register.
The father immediately went to his bank and withdrew $5,000. He was then instructed to go to various locations outside of Laguna Beach in order to transfer the money to an account in Mexico.
"At about 6:30 pm, as the victim was completing the last transaction, he received a call from his daughter who was fine in Laguna Beach," Cota explained.
His daughter informed him she had not been kidnapped. But it was too late, the man couldn't stop the funds transfer.
The police also reported another woman was contacted a day later by a suspect who said her daughter had been kidnapped while attending college in Chicago. The parents were told to wire the ransom money to an account, using the same location in Costa Mesa to make the wire transfer.
"Once the mother pulled out the money, she called the police department," Cota told the newspaper. "Police officers stopped her on her way out of town and were able to stop the transfer of money."
Both of the cases in California have been turned over to the FBI. The agency believes the scam calls are coming from outside the country.
"We do believe that phone calls are coming from out of the country, including Mexico, and that money transfers have been sent out of the country," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told NBC News.
In a Facebook post on March 8, the Laguna Beach Police alerted residents to the scam, writing: "This type of activity is called 'virtual kidnapping' and we believe the suspect was able to learn personal information of the victim through unsecured social media sites (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Review the settings of all your social media sites to make sure they are secured to protect yourself against being a victim."
If you are contacted, the FBI says to hang up on the caller and report the incident to your local law enforcement officials.
If you have been a victim of this crime, call the local FBI field office near you.