SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS WARN OF SPIKE IN “VIRTUAL KIDNAPPING” SCAMS

This scam has been particularly prevalent in California, especially among Hispanic victims, the elderly and the affluent, but similar scams have been reported by victims of all financial backgrounds across the nation, according to a recent FBI report.

phone-scam-graphic-06242016

Originally posted on Riverside County News Source August 19, 2017

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After a recent spike of incidents in Riverside County involving phone-based, kidnapping scams, Riverside County sheriff’s officials are reminding citizens to be wary of and to immediately report any phone calls or texts from an unknown person claiming a family member or loved one has been kidnapped or is being held for ransom.

The scams, which law enforcement officials and federal investigators first began to see in 2013 and have dubbed “virtual kidnappings,” have become more common and have been gaining popularity among criminals looking for a quick and too often very easy payout.

The scam has been particularly prevalent in California, especially among Hispanic victims, the elderly and the affluent, but similar scams have been reported by victims of all financial backgrounds across the nation, according to a recent FBI report.

One 2015 task force uncovers over 80 victims of virtual kidnappings

In 2015, the FBI began a task force, dubbed “Operation Hotel Tango,” with Los Angeles-area law enforcement agencies. The multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency task force located more than 80 victims throughout California, Texas, Idaho and Minnesota. With average losses around $1,000 per family, the victim’s losses totaled $74,000.

Although many of the cases involved suspects looking for a quick, if not substantial, payout, some of the cases have been known to yield tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In many of the known cases, the victims were contacted over the phone by unknown suspects who claimed that their loved ones had been kidnapped. The suspects often said the kidnapped person had witnessed a crime, owed a debt or been smuggled across the border into Mexico and that they would be tortured and killed if a ransom was not paid immediately.

In some cases, victims reported they could hear the agonized screams of a person they were manipulated to believe was their family member. This was done to cause fear and panic in order to quickly extort ransom payments from the victims.

By the time the victims learned their family members had not been kidnapped and had never been in danger, the “ransom payments” had already been sent off to the scammers and were unrecoverable.

The callers have also often been known to keep the person on the phone throughout the process of obtaining and wiring the money, to ensure the terrified victim does not have an opportunity to contact law enforcement officials, friends or other family members.

One parent shares her two-hour long, nightmare ordeal

In one such incident reported to law enforcement officials in March of this year, the mother of a California Baptist University student was contacted by a unknown number with a Mexico prefix.

When the victim, 60-year-old, Laura Bontrager, answered the phone the first thing she heard was the screaming of a young woman, followed by an unknown man who got onto the phone and said he had kidnapped the woman’s college-aged daughter. The man told the victim he was holding a gun to her daughter’s stomach.

The man told Bontrager that her daughter had witnessed a crime involving a child and the only way she would ever get to see her daughter alive again was to wire him a ransom in Mexico. The man then ordered the victim to go to a bank and pull out as much money as she could.

Over the next two hours, the suspect kept the terrified victim on the phone, using the mother’s fear for her daughter to control her actions in trying to accomplish what he wanted.

After Bontrager went to an ATM and pulled out $1,000, her bank’s limit, and prepared to wire the money to the “kidnapper” her husband managed to get in touch with the daughter who had allegedly been kidnapped.

To the parent’s relief, their daughter was safe and at one of her classes at the college.

FBI warns of sharp increase of virtual kidnapping incidents

At a July 2017, press conference in Los Angeles, the FBI warned Southern Californians about the scam, saying that countless Southern California residents were known to have been targeted by scammers claiming to have kidnapped the victims’ loved ones. Although officials have identified many victims, they believe the true number of victims is much higher, but that many of the victims choose not to report the crimes.

During the press conference, one victim, a Westside LAPD traffic sergeant, shared his experience when he was targeted – unsuccessfully – during a similar virtual kidnapping scam.

The sergeant, explained he had been driving on the 405 Freeway when he received a phone call from a number he did not recognize. When he answered the phone, he could hear a person screaming, “Daddy, daddy, help me!”

“I didn’t recognize the voice,” the sergeant said, “so I tried to explain to her that she needed to call 911.”

At that point another person’s voice came onto the line and told the sergeant that his daughter had been kidnapped and he had to transfer money to the suspect in order to get his daughter back safely.

“They specifically threatened to put a bullet in the back of my child’s head,” the sergeant said.

As the phone call continued – for over one hour – the terrified sergeant spotted some Torrance police officers, who were able to determine that the intended victim’s daughter was safe at her school.

How to avoid being scammed by virtual kidnap schemes

According to many law enforcement agencies across the nation that have been hit by these types of scams, some common indicators you might be falling victim to a virtual kidnap scam include if:

— Incoming calls come from an outside area code or from these specific area codes: 787, 939 and 856.

— Calls come from an unknown number rather than from the alleged kidnap victim’s phone.

— Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone while demanding you obtain ransom money.

— Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer, which allows the money to be picked up anywhere in the world, or by specific means such as a “Green Dot” card.

Law enforcement agencies have also suggested potential victims try to slow the situation down. Call recipients should request to speak to the victim directly or ask for other forms of “proof of life” from the alleged kidnappers. If the kidnappers refuse to allow you speak with the victim, ask them to describe the victim, the vehicle they drive, or to answer some questions that only the real victim would know.

If the callers can not answer your questions or refuse to provide proof that your loved one is alive and uninjured, chances are you are being targeted by scammers looking for a quick buck.

Anyone with information regarding this type of fraudulent activity is encouraged to contact their local law enforcement agency. Those who live within jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department can also submit a tip using the Sheriff’s CrimeTips online form.

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Even more information

Artemisia Bowden, 1969 (Aug 18)

Using God-given gifts fo serve Church and World

Artemisia Bowden
Artemisia Bowden

The Rt. Rev. James Steptoe Johnston, Bishop of the Missionary District of Western Texas (1888–1916), desired to provide education and skill development for newly emancipated blacks in the mission field. Bishop Johnston traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, in search of a young, black, female teacher. In 1902, Ms. Artemisia Bowden courageously accepted Bishop Johnston’s invitation and assumed leadership of the St. Philip’s Vocational Day School for Colored Children in San Antonio, Texas.

She began with less than ten students. After leading the school for 52 years, a small day school was transformed into a fully accredited junior college offering over 100 degree and certificate programs. In 2016, St. Philip’s College has an enrollment of over 11,000 students. St. Philip’s College carries the dual designation of being a Historically Black College and a Hispanic Serving Institution Bowden’s work, which began more than 110 years ago, continues to be an essential piece of the educational system in South Texas.

Her participation in various social causes included the Texas Commission on Interracial Relations, the Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club, the City Federation of Clubs, the Southern Conference of Christians and Jews, the Coordination Council of Juvenile Delinquency in the Texas Social Welfare Association, the American Friends Service Commission, the Texas T.B. Association of Bexar County, and the National Association of College Women’s Clubs.

Her visionary leadership at St. Philip’s, as well as in the community, earned her honorary degrees, and recognition as one of ten outstanding women in the field of education by the National Council of Negro Women in 1946; she was honored as Zeta Phi Beta’s Woman of the Year in 1955. Dr. Bowden died in 1969, after a full and rich life of faith in Christ and fidelity to Christ’s Church, having served both the School and St. Philip’s Church in the Diocese of West Texas for more than sixty-seven years.

Great Cloud of Witnesses

Collect for this Remembrance

O God, by your Holy Spirit, you give gifts to your people so that they might faithfully serve your Church and the world: We give you praise for the gifts of perseverance, teaching, and wisdom made manifest in your servant, Artemisia Bowden, whom you called far from home for the sake of educating the daughters and granddaughters of former slaves in Texas. We thank you for blessing and prospering her life’s work, and pray that, following her example, we may be ever mindful of the call to serve where you send us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Here is an example of what faithful discipleship looks like. Here is our prayer to “be ever mindful of the call to serve where you [O God] send us.” Here is our request to be as faithful in our ministry. Surely our God will answer such a prayer and bless us for ministry. ~Fr. Dan

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Satucket Lectionary Page

Collect: Manteo and Virginia Dare (Aug 17)

You, O God, have created every human being in your image

Baptism of Virginia Dare
Baptism of Virginia Dare

 

In the late sixteenth century, Sir Walter Raleigh established three colonies along the northeastern coast of what is now the state of North Carolina. In July 1587, the third and final settlement, consisting of 120 men, women, and children under the leadership of John White, landed on Roanoke Island, near the present-day community of Nags Head.

With the colonists was Manteo, a Native American of the Algonquian nation and resident of Croatoan who had traveled to London in an earlier expedition to become a liaison between the English and the Native Americans. On August 13, 1587, Manteo was baptized, the first recorded baptism of the Church of England in the American colonies and the first recorded baptism of a Native American person in the Church of England. On August 18, Governor White’s daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare celebrated the birth of their first child, Virginia. The first child born to English settlers on the North American continent, Virginia’s baptism on August 20 was the second recorded baptism in the Church of England in North America.

Governor White returned England in late August 1587 to obtain badly needed supplies. It was understood that if the colonists were forced to abandon the settlement in White’s absence, they would carve the name of their destination on a tree. If their departure were due to attack, a Maltese cross would be carved beneath. Delayed by events beyond his control, White was unable to return to the colony for three years. It was not until August 18, 1590 that White finally arrived at the site of the village. White found the word “Croatoan,” with no carved cross or other signs of distress, carved into a post of the fort. Little certainty surrounds the fate of the English settlers, who remain known to history as the “Lost Colony.”

Holy Women, Holy Men

Collect for this Remembrance

O God, you have created every human being in your image and each one is precious in your sight: Grant that in remembering the baptisms of Manteo and Virginia Dare, we may grow in honoring your gift of diversity in human life; become stronger in living out our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being; and bring into the fellowship of the risen Christ those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the light of recent events in Charlottesville, VA (August 12+, 2017) this prayer is very timely. May we who follow Jesus “become stronger in living out our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being” —with the help of God. ~Fr. Dan

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Satucket Lectionary Page

Collect: St. Mary the Virgin (Aug 15)

Celebrating Mary a woman of profound faith

 

Mary and Child Fresco. Catacombs of Priscilla

 

The honor paid to Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Two Gospels tell of the manner of Christ’s birth, and the familiar Christmas story testifies to the Church’s conviction that he was born of a virgin. In Luke’s Gospel, we catch a brief glimpse of Jesus’ upbringing at Nazareth, when the child was wholly in the care of his mother and his foster-father, Joseph.

During Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, we learn that Mary was often with the other women who followed Jesus and ministered to his needs. At Calvary, she was among the little band of disciples who kept watch at the cross. After the resurrection, she was to be found with the Twelve in the upper room, watching and praying until the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Mary was the person closest to Jesus in his most impressionable years, and the words of the Magnificat, as well as her humble acceptance of the divine will, bear more than an accidental resemblance to the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.

Later devotion has claimed many things for Mary which cannot be proved from Holy Scripture. What we can believe is that one who stood in so intimate a relationship with the incarnate Son of God on earth must, of all the human race, have the place of highest honor in the eternal life of God. A paraphrase of an ancient Greek hymn expresses this belief in very familiar words: “O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises, alleluia.”

Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006

The intimate relationship of mother and child

Collect for St. Mary the Virgin

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, 243

 

It’s a simple prayer. May we, who love Jesus, be blessed to share with Mary “the glory of [God’s] eternal kingdom.” Let us respond to God’s “Yes” with the faithfulness of Mary whose love of Jesus has been remembered and celebrated throughout the Christian centuries. ~Fr. Dan

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Collect: Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Seminarian and Martyr, 1965 (Aug 14)

In the moment of decision he risked and gave his life for another

 

Jonathan Myrick Daniels

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was born in Keene, New Hampshire, in 1939. He was shot and killed by an unemployed highway worker in Hayneville, Alabama, August 14, 1965.

From high school in Keene to graduate school at Harvard, Jonathan wrestled with the meaning of life and death and vocation. Attracted to medicine, the ordained ministry, law and writing, he found himself close to a loss of faith when his search was resolved by a profound conversion on Easter Day 1962 at the Church of the Advent in Boston. Jonathan then entered the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In March 1965, the televised appeal of Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma to secure for all citizens the right to vote drew Jonathan to a time and place where the nation’s racism and the Episcopal Church’s share in that inheritance were exposed.

He returned to seminary and asked leave to work in Selma where he would be sponsored by the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. Conviction of his calling was deepened at Evening Prayer during the singing of the Magnificat: “ ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things.’ I knew that I must go to Selma. The Virgin’s song was to grow more and more dear to me in the weeks ahead.”

Read more…

Holy Women, Holy Men

Collect for this Remembrance

O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In our prayer, we give thanks for Jonathan, a young man “who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave hiss life for another.” Jonathan did not die long ago and far away; he died less than 60 years ago right here in the United States. Sadly, the divisions and violence that marked America in his day continue in our own. So we boldly ask the God of justice and compassion to bless us that “we, following [the example of Jonathan], may make no peace with oppression.” May we say and do those things that are right and good and in accord with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. ~Fr. Dan

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: The Encyclopedia of Alabama

Praying for rain …

Praying in hope and expectation.

A prayer for rain from the BCP

July 18, 2017. Idyllwild, CA. Since the winter snows there has been little moisture on the mountain. Today and tomorrow we have a slight chance of rain. We pray that it may be so. ~Fr. Dan

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Grant me the lamp of love

Luminous with a love for others.

Oil lamp. Lit.

Grant me, O Lord, the lamp of love which never grows dim, that it may shine in me and warm my heart, and give light to others through my love for them, and by its brightness we may have a vision of the Holy City where the true and inextinguishable light shines, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer by Columbanus (550-615) in Michael Counsell, Ed.,
2000 Years of Prayer Kindle Edition.

As we move into Saturday (the week day this was posted) how did you do with giving “light to others through [your] love for them”? How can you learn from the good you have done and expand into a new week? ~Fr. Dan

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

2000 Years of Prayer (Amazon)

Image: Church Art