Scam artists are forever looking for ways to separate victims from their money. Lately they have relied heavily on telephone scams, including one that the FBI calls virtual kidnapping.

There are many variations on the theme, but they usually involve a phone call from an unknown number, sometimes from Mexico. The victim is contacted by a stranger, and told that a loved one has either been kidnapped, injured in a car accident, or has been arrested.

In each of the cases, the caller demands money, sometimes in cash, sometimes by cashier check or credit card.

One such case occurred here last week when a local woman received a call telling her that her daughter had been abducted. The daughter was OK, as it turned out, but not before the woman went to meet the scammers in hopes of rescuing her daughter.

Estella Guzman Pina recounted the accident in a lengthy Facebook post. She described how her mother received a call saying that she (Estella) had been kidnapped and would only be released after a ransom had been paid.

Schleicher County Sheriff Jason Chatham said that his office received a call from a neighbor’s house reporting the incident. Deputy Ben Maness intercepted the mother as she walked toward the Lowe’s grocery store where she had been told to meet the kidnappers.

Fortunately, the daughter was safe and sound, but couldn’t answer he phone because she was swimming laps at the pool.

“We get these kind of calls a lot,” Sheriff Chatham said. “They usually target the elderly and attempt to extort money by telling them a loved one has been injured in an accident and they need to send money so that they can be treated in a hospital.”

Chatham said that other scammers claim that a loved one has been arrested and needs money to make bail.

“This one was a straight up kidnapping claim. Thankfully, it was a hoax,” Chatham said.

Dora Mankin of Eldorado recently received a similar hoax phone call in which the caller claimed to be her son Michael. He said he had been injured in a fight and was in jail in Boston. The caller said his injuries were keeping him from speaking clearly and said he needed money in order to get out of jail and seek medical treatment.

“I knew something was wrong when he called himself Michael and not Mike,” Dora Mankin said.

She hung up and called her son, Mike, who was at home in Oklahoma.

“That’s the way these criminals work,” Chatham said. “They learn the names of your family members and make the call sound as real as possible.”

The best way to defend against a virtual kidnapping or other telephone scam is to hang up and call the authorities.

“Call us and let us know as soon as possible,” Chatham said. “And, never, ever give the caller any of your personal information like your social security number or bank account number. Don’t tell them your name, or the names of family members, and absolutely do not hand over any money.”

The FBI offers the same advice and says that the best course of action is to simply hang up the phone.

If you believe that a loved one has indeed been kidnapped or is otherwise in trouble, contact the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office immediately by dialing 9-1-1 or 325-853-2737.