A Houston native loses over $1,000 on a scam call, officials offer tips to avoid becoming a victim

Army veteran and Houston native Felix Rios says August 10 was one of the scariest days of his life after he was the victim of a mutual phone scam.

After leaving a doctor’s appointment in El Paso with his pregnant wife, he received a troubling call that he believed was his mother, who still lives in Houston.

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“She sounded stressed,” says Rios. “She said it in Spanish: “Felix, my son … I was in an accident. Please help me.”

He then says a Spanish-speaking man called, saying he kidnapped Felix’s mother and threatened to hurt her.

“He says my mom saw him take some guns and drugs out of that vehicle,” Rios says.

“And when she tried to drive away, I got my boys to grab her and I threw her in the back of my truck.”

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The man tells Felix he would let his mother go if he wire him money right away. Felix grabs a total of $1,100 in cash and sends it through Moneygram and Western Union transactions.

It was only towards the end of the intense call that he received text messages from his mother, who was sure to be at work.

“I just burst into tears,” says Rios. “I can’t believe they captured my mother’s voice so well or made a recording of something like this. I mean it fools a lot of people.”

Rios was told by both Western Union and Moneygram that they can’t get the money back because he paid in cash and mailed it to a name given to him.

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The $1,100 was all Rios and his wife had as the former military police officer is currently looking for a job.

Some of the money was given to the young couple at a recent baby shower.

The Houston Better Business Bureau says these types of fraudulent calls, known as emergency scams, are more common in Houston and across the country.

Calls are coming in from someone claiming your loved one is in danger and asking for a cash payment for release or emergency assistance.

Scammers usually request an untraceable method, such as cash payments, to make it harder for authorities to track down the culprit. The calls can also come from local numbers.

“If you receive this type of call, the best thing to do is not to make any payment at all, not to respond or answer immediately, even though it can be a very scary call that you are receiving,” says Leah Napoliello. VP of Operations at BBB in Houston.

“You can ask the caller for their contact information and ask them personal questions about your loved one. If it’s a scam, they can’t give you those answers.”

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The Federal Communications Commission reported that Americans lost an estimated $30 billion to fraudulent calls in 2021.

Felix’ sister Kristal Jimenez told FOX 26 they’re also concerned it’s happening to many people in Latino communities.

“They hope their experience will save others from losing large sums of money. We still have the majority of family members in Mexico, so that’s a concern,” Jimenez said.

“The threat of having a cartel’s family taken away, or someone just trying to take money from Latinos living in America … it happens a lot more often than people talk.”

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