Houston Woman Charged in "Virtual Kidnapping" Scam
You're going about your day when you get a call from a stranger with a Mexican phone number, and the caller tells you your daughter has been kidnapped, and unless you pay a ransom, your child's fingers will be cut off.
What do you do?
Freaked-out parents in Texas, California and Idaho paid the ransom, which federal prosecutors say went into the pockets of a Houston woman named Yanette Rodriguez Acosta, a.k.a. Yanette Patino, and co-conspirators in Mexico.
Acosta last week was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money in what prosecutors call "a virtual kidnapping for ransom," according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas.
The release also states:
"Victims were typically instructed to wire money to individuals in Mexico. However, two of those victims were directed to make money drops at specified locations in the Houston area on Sept. 17, and Sept. 30, 2015, respectively, according to the charges. Both victims were allegedly told their daughters had been kidnapped because they had witnessed a crime and that their fingers would be cut off if the parents did not comply with demands.
Acosta allegedly picked up the ransom payments following the victims’ money drops. The indictment alleges that after taking her portion of the ransom money, Acosta wired the remainder to her co-conspirators in Mexico. She also allegedly recruited others to send money to Mexico."
The two Houston victims paid a combined $28,000, according to prosecutors, who also claim that there were additional victims in Idaho and California.
Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez stressed in the press release how the scam tricked victims "into believing their loved ones are in danger, and the horror and helplessness they feel as they scramble to secure what they think is their release. It is important for people to know about these scams and to be cautious and mindful when getting these types of calls.”
Multiple agencies conducted the investigation, including the Montgomery County Sheriff's office; the police departments of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills; ICE's Homeland Security Investigations; and FBI and IRS agents in Los Angeles.
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