Phone call from Puerto Rico, about a family emergency? Hang up, sheriff says.

Puerto Rico remains a popular vacation spot with tourists. But the Osceola County Sheriff's Office is warning local residents who are originally from Puerto Rico not to fall for a telephone scam.

KISSIMMEE — In the past decade, Central Florida has become home to thousands of new residents from Puerto Rico, who have left the island to call Greater Orlando or Kissimmee their home.
In many instances, they leave relatives behind.
Even so, if any resident of Central Florida who came here from Puerto Rico gets a phone call from the island, claiming there’s an emergency back home and they need to send money right away ….. hang up.
That’s the advice of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, which is warning local residents about an ongoing scam targeted toward this region’s Hispanic community. It’s not a new scam, but sadly, it still manages to hurt some unsuspecting victims.
“This scam is similar to one detectives took numerous reports on last year,” said Twis Lizasuain, public information officer for the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. “Those cases were referred to the FBI because multiple law enforcement agencies were receiving complaints.”
Now her office is getting complaints from victims once again, Lizasuain said, local residents who say they got scammed out of money after a caller claimed one of their relatives back on the island had been kidnapped.
“Within the last few months, the sheriff’s office has taken several reports from individuals who received a call in Spanish, informing them a family member had been held against their will, and demanding the family send money to an undisclosed bank account in Puerto Rico,” Lizasuain said.
If that sounds like a farfetched scenario, Lizasuain said the callers apparently can be persuasive, and have conned some local victims into sending money to those bank accounts.
As a result, the sheriff’s office is sending out a warning to local residents, letting them know it’s all a scam and if they do get one of these phone calls, don’t fall for it.
“If you receive a similar call, remain calm and contact your family member immediately,” Lizsuain noted. “If you are unable to contact your family member, call law enforcement immediately.”
Osceola Sheriff’s deputies are also encouraging the public to make an attempt to get more information from the caller, information that can be passed on to law enforcement locally and in Puerto Rico.
“Verify the authenticity of the caller’s claim by asking questions to verify the identity of the kidnapped victim,” Lizasuain said.
And most of all, she added, let the authorities know about the call.
“Even if you have confirmed your family member is safe, report the incident to law enforcement,” Lizasuain said.
When reporting the call, Lizasuain said, it’s very helpful if they can provide law enforcement with:
1. Confirmation that your family member is safe;
2. Details on the specific demands made by the caller;
3. As much information as possible — gender, the accent of the caller, and the date, time and place the caller arranged for the ransom to be paid.
Anyone with information about this scam is being asked to call the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office at 407-348-2222 or Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS (8477). Calls made to Crimeline remain anonymous, and tips that lead to a felony arrest are eligible for cash rewards of up to $1,000.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@mail.com.

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