‘Threats involving the Mexican cartel’: Winter Haven police warn of ‘unthinkable’ phone scheme

Polk County

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — Police in Winter Haven are warning residents in the area about a phone scheme going around that includes threats involving a Mexican cartel.

The Winter Haven Police Department issued a warning Thursday saying the scheme is “rising to a different level” because of the threats involving a cartel.

According to police, a Winter Haven mom received a call from an international phone number over the weekend from a man who claimed to have information about the woman’s daughter being in a car crash. The man told the mother that the daughter’s information needed to be verified. Police say the mother gave the information because of how urgent the call sounded.

“At that point, the tone of the call changed drastically,” a police department spokesperson said.

Police say the caller then demanded the mom go to Western Union and immediately wire $1,000 to a listing in Mexico because her daughter was “being held hostage by the Mexican cartel.”

According to the police spokesperson, the mother was frantic and went to Western Union while the caller was still on the phone. During the call, police say the mother was told if she disconnected, she wouldn’t hear from her daughter again.

After the mother sent $350, the caller demanded more and threatened harm to the woman’s daughter again, police say. The mother told officers she also heard what sounded like a woman in the background of the call screaming “mommy help!” Police say the call ended after the woman sent the only remaining money she had.

Once the caller hung up, the mother immediately called her daughter and found out she was safe and was spending the day in Orlando with her husband. When the mother asked Western Union if the transmittal of money could be stopped, police say she was told it could not.

“This type of coercion is unthinkable,” Winter Haven Public Safety Director and Police Chief Charlie Bird said in a statement. “And the worst part is it is extremely difficult to trace these types of scams and bring people to justice.”

Police are warning residents that these types of schemes use tactics to “put victims in a positional of total fear.” If you receive a call like this, police say “as hard as it may seem,” hang up and call law enforcement immediately to give them the phone number and any names you were given.

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