The Napa Police Department is warning senior residents and their relatives to be on the lookout for a “family emergency” scam officers say has been active locally for several months.

Several Napans have reported receiving telephone calls from a person purporting to be a grandchild, the department said in a press release. During the calls, the caller claims to have been arrested in a foreign country – often the Dominican Republic – and that they need money to be released from jail. In many cases, the caller also claims to have been injured during the arrest, according to Napa Police.

Callers then ask a victim to purchase prepaid cards such as iTunes or Visa gift cards in large denominations, up to $2,000, and to provide them the activation numbers by phone, Napa Police reported. If suspects receive the money, they sometimes call the victim again and seek more money to pay other purported fines.

“Unfortunately, the suspects are mostly calling from overseas and leave us with minimal investigative leads,” Napa Police said in the statement.

Police urge residents to resist suspects’ efforts to play on their emotions, and to share these preventive tips with seniors in their families:

Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.

Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.

Call a phone number for your family member or friend whom you know to be genuine.

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Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.

Don’t wire money, or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.

Report possible fraud at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-FTC-HELP.

The Napa Police Department asked residents who have received such calls to call investigators at 257-9223. For information, visit consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0204-family-emergency-scams.

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