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Berks County officials: Beware of ransom phone calls

By Dwayne Parker, Reporter, DParker@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 22 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 23 2012 05:12:20 AM CDT

Police have a warning for residents in Berks County.

READING, Pa. -

Police have a warning for residents in Berks County.

They say con artists are targeting families, claiming their loved ones have been kidnapped, and demanding thousands of dollars over the phone.

That's exactly what happened to Cecelia Burford from Reading.

"A man was shouting that a family member had been in a car accident, and was kidnapped," said Burford. "They were demanding a $1,000. If I didn't come up with $1,000 they were going to shoot him in the back of the head."

She says they threatened to shoot her, too, if she didn't pay up.

"It sucks you in. It feels for real, the way they are talking, it's real, it feels real," said Burford.

Malcia Cruz who works in Reading was in a similar situation.

"My husband called me, very nervous, very hysterical," said Cruz, "because they were asking him to send money because they were going to hurt his mother."

It turns out Cruz's mother-in-law was never in any danger.

Reading police say the calls are fake.

Investigators say over the weekend, they have received 15 new complaints for phony ransom calls.

"The actual phone calls are being made from phones that are physically in Puerto Rico at the time of these calls," said Sgt. John Solecki.

Police say the area code from Puerto Rico to look out for is 787.

They say it's tough to track the con artists because they purchased pre-paid cell phones with false information.

"It has caused alarm and panic among many of the people who have received these calls," said Solecki.

Burford says she is taking precautions. Through Facebook she has warned her loved ones to be on alert. Now she is just happy everyone is okay.

"Very relieved. Thank God," said Burford.

As for Cruz, she says she will also be on high alert.

"If I get a phone call from Puerto Rico, and I don't know who it is, I won't take the call. That's it," said Cruz.

Officials say other police departments across the country are also dealing with similar scams.

If you have any information, you are urged to contact police immediately.