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How to protect yourself from online and phone scams

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The LAPD and FBI joined forces last week to warn L.A. parents about a scam. 

Dozens of U.S. families have gotten calls from strangers and those people claim to have kidnapped their children.

But the children aren't kidnapped.

These so-called "virtual kidnappings" for ransom are the latest scam to come to light in California, but it's been encountered in other parts of the country for years.

"Scams like this ... start in one part of the country and then they tend to migrate around ... This is just making it's way to California now.," Steven Weisman, told Take Two's A Martinez. Weisman head of the website Scamicide, which keeps track of the various modern con-jobs.

"Whenever you get a phone call from someone that asks for personal information, and it can be 'Oh there's been a problem with your bank account, there's been a problem with your credit card account.' They'll make it seem like an emergency, you have to respond, provide them the information. But you can never be sure who really is calling."

On how these sorts of crimes are carried out.

"Identity is hi-tech low-tech and no-tech. Much of it is done over the phone calling people ... Some people will steal mail from your mailbox or even steal mail from postal service mailboxes looking for checks that they can wash and counterfeit. They're looking for credit card statements and information like that. Right now cyber criminals can operate from anywhere."  

On the sort of people that can be affected by this

"There are people who are on social security and getting phone scams in a way that it is someone calling, purportedly from the social security organizations, saying they are not going to be getting living adjustment unless they provide confirming information including a social security number.

"Millenials on the other hand, who are pretty savvy, quite often are also too trusting of technology and are not taking the steps they need to protect themselves from particularly cyber related crimes. Clicking on links to download malware that can steal their information from their portable devices."

On the options that are available to you if you are the victim of a scam

"In California, you've got the Consumer Protection Division of your Attorney General's office, which is very very helpful. The Federal Trade Commission is probably the largest and best organization, as far as the federal government goes, to deal with these. They'll have regional offices. Those would be the two best bets. But the best thing is to avoid these scams."

Answers have been edited for clarity.

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