School officials in Oregon warn about phone scam targeting parents

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Phone scammers are targeting parents in an attempt to extort money from them, according to school officials in Oregon. It’s happening to families with kids of all ages, including college football players.

“It could be very traumatizing for parents to deal with,” said Steve Padilla, a spokesperson for the Reynolds School District.

Padilla said since April, scammers have called three Spanish-speaking families with children in the Reynolds School District. In each case, the scammers spoke Spanish and claimed to have kidnapped their child and demanded money via Cash App or wire transfer for their safe return. Padilla said the scammers also use Artificial Intelligence technology to mimic the sound of children in the background.

“They have that noise of, ‘Mom I’m with them, pay them!'” Padilla said. “That’s a scary thing if you think your child is with them and they’re saying ‘Pay them,’ so you can get them back.'”

Padilla wants parents to know the district would never release students to anyone other than those listed in the child’s emergency contact list. Besides Reynolds, the Centennial, Parkrose and Gresham Barlow school districts have also warned of scam attempts.

“It’s sick that anyone would scam someone like that,” said a parent named Kayla.

“Scammers are so desperate, they come up with different things every day,” said another parent named Jennifer. “Preying on anybody and everybody who’ll listen.”

It’s not just happening to parents of young kids. Gary Overman’s son is Jake Overman, and Oregon State University (OSU) tight end. He said a scammer called him and claimed to be a campus police official The scammer said that Jake Overman was in custody for being drunk and disorderly, and demanded hundreds of dollars.

“[He said] that if I paid, then it was going to be swept under the table and not become public knowledge, nor would they have to turn my son into the state police,” Gary Overman said.

What the scammer didn’t know is that Jake Overman was home with his family, on break. Gary Overman said the scammers used technology to make the call sound more convincing.

“It sounded good. It sounded authentic,” he said. “The background noise … they had it like they were at a police department. Very clear and very understanding. It wasn’t like I was talking to another country.”

OSU officials told KGW that scammers have recently called five families of football players. One family made a payment. School officials asked all coaches to talk with athletes and encouraged them to warn their parents.

“It’s terribly sad and unfortunate that someone would seek to take advantage of students away at college,” said Steve Clark, vice president for university relations. “Oregon State police and public safety personnel would never call the families of students seeking money or payments for arrest or a past-due bill. We encourage everyone to be wary and please don’t provide money to people calling them on the phone.”

Authorities said it’s tough to track these type of scammers because they’re often calling from outside the U.S. They said if you hear from one, remain calm and don’t give into their demands. Instead, check on your child’s location for yourself and remember that this type of scam takes on many different forms, personalized for each target.

“A thousand dollars is worth getting your child back, but it’s a scam,” Padilla said. “We don’t want them to lose their money.”

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