A heads up from El Paso PD regarding a terrifying phone scam that involves a loved one being taken hostage.

The swindle attempt, referred to by law enforcement as a "hostage scam" or "virtual kidnapping," has been around off-and-on for several years and has recently started trending again.

Police say the phone call, usually from an area code originating in Mexico or outside El Paso, is from someone claiming a family member is being held hostage and will only be released in exchange for money.

Sometimes they claim the relative was involved in a car accident and they want payment for the damages, sometimes a drug debt is owed. The reason for the alleged kidnapping varies, but the con remains the same; send money now or something horrible will happen to your loved one.

Callers sometimes go so far as to use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat such as a man or women making screaming noises in the background.

As scary and frightful receiving a phone call like that is, EPPD says the chances of it being an actual kidnapping are very slim. Here's what they and the FBI suggest you do if you get a call from someone claiming to be holding your relative hostage:

• Ask to speak to the hostage.

• Ask the kidnapper to describe the hostage.

• The callers generally have vague information about their “hostage” so do not provide any information to them.

• While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to get in touch with the alleged kidnap victim from another phone or through social media or text messages.

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