Increase seen in phone scams that target parents, pet owners

A retired woman lost her cat Dora earlier this month. She posted to social media to ask if anyone's seen her and a scammer contacted her almost right away.
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 5:41 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 13, 2023 at 5:59 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Ellen Opitz is holding on to her cat Ginny pretty tight these days, and with good reason. The retired teacher’s other cat, Dora, disappeared earlier this month and has never returned. “Its just like my heart is ripped out,” said Opitz.

The pain of losing Dora, however, is only part of it. A couple of days after Opitz posted a “Lost Cat” picture of Dora on social media, she got a text from someone saying they’d found her cat, but it wasn’t true. “I was relieved,” said Opitz. “It was the best feeling, but it was a bummer after I realized and checked with my son Kirk. He said, ‘Mom, it’s a scam.’”

Opitz couldn’t believe it. Someone had texted her pretending to find her beloved pet, then told her to access a Google account and put in a special code to verify who she was, in a likely attempt to steal her identity.

Heidi Howard, with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, said they’ve been seeing a growing number of phone scams preying on people’s emotions and vulnerability. Earlier this week, a mother in Prescott Valley reported that she got a call from a man who said he’d kidnapped her 8-year-old daughter. The man was yelling and demanded money from the family. “The person who called put on the voice of a young girl in some sort of distress, or crying, or something that imitated a young girl and they were like, ‘Oh My God,’” said Howard.

Jennifer DeStefano said she got a call from an unfamiliar phone number and almost let it go to voicemail. But what happened next was terrifying. (Source: KPHO)

Fortunately, the mom hung up and called 911. She then ran to her daughter’s school and found her child sitting in class. Authorities say scam artists know that by preying on a parent’s or pet owner’s emotions, they’ve got a reasonable chance of getting them to do what they want. “We want the problem fixed, and when the pressure is on you’ll say and do whatever you can in order to make it stop,” said Howard. “‘I want my kid back. I want my sister back. What do you need from me?’ They just feed into that.”

Howard advises anyone who may be the target of a scam to hang up the phone, don’t respond to fear tactics, verify the scam online or reach out to their local police department.