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Cleveland couple warns others not to fall for kidnapping, murder scam

CLEVELAND — A Cleveland couple say they were lucky not to fall for a horrible scam that has touched others in Rowan and Iredell counties.

Nathaniel Setzer said his wife, Angela, received a phone call Wednesday on her cell saying her sister-in-law, Bonnie, had been kidnapped. The caller said if they didn’t hand over $1,700 then Bonnie would be dead.

Worried, Angela immediately told her husband to get on the phone.

“I started talking to him. He was like ‘if you want your sister alive then you have to pay me,’ ” Setzer said.

“He said, ‘we will shoot your sister,’ ” Setzer said.

Setzer said he kept asking questions in order to get the caller to stay on the line long enough for his wife to call Cleveland Police.

The caller told Setzer his sister, Bonnie, had been involved in a car accident and struck a child, seriously injuring them. The caller said he was the father of the child and needed money to pay for doctor bills.

The caller told Setzer that Bonnie had been kidnapped and was being held inside the caller’s apartment and unless they wire money via Western Union immediately, she’d been killed.

Setzer said he continued to ask questions and put off the caller by saying he didn’t have a car, but if the caller could pick him up he’d give them $1,000 in cash.

The caller insisted on the money being wired via Western Union, Setzer said.

When Setzer began asking more questions, he said that’s when the caller’s story began unraveling and he was certain it was a scam.

The caller then told Setzer that Bonnie was in the car with someone else who was driving, but that they’d kidnapped both. When Setzer asked about the safety of the other person, the caller told Setzer he would kill the other person.

Setzer said he could hear a pop like a handgun and then he heard a woman scream and mumble some words. He noted the caller’s accent sounded Hispanic while the woman had no accent.

He added the caller then said the father was wanted by authorities and needed the money to get out of the country.

The caller said he was testing Setzer and he needed to leave immediately to wire the money. He demanded Setzer not call anyone and not answer the phone or he said I would “never see your sister again.”

Setzer said what really sold him on the call being a scam was that the caller only asked for $1,700. Setzer said he thought if someone were being held for ransom, the kidnappers surely would want more money.

Cleveland Police arrived at the Setzers home and actually intercepted a call from the scammer, Setzer said.

He believes the scammer didn’t realize he’d just called his wife’s cellphone because he began selling them on a similar story, but with a kidnapped victim whose name was Elizabeth.

“They were talking to the police, but thought they were talking to somebody else,” Setzer said.

The scammers also tried the same call on Bonnie, Setzer’s sister. She called her brother saying she was called by someone saying he was kidnapped.

Bonnie asked if Setzer was alright and that’s when he told his sister he’d gotten a similar phone call.

Setzer said he knew it was a scam, but fears there are people who won’t figure it out in time.

He said if someone receives a similar call they should listen to discrepancies in the caller’s story, which is what really made him believe the call was a fake. He urges potential victims to just be cautious.

Cleveland Police Chief David Allen said he’s received other reports of similar incidents occurring within the last few days.

Allen encourages people to be aware that this call is a scam. The chief received a call from a woman who lived in Boone who still had her Salisbury number. The caller told the woman her stepson, who is actually a student at West Rowan, was kidnapped secondary to a motor vehicle accident.

The caller said the person involved in the accident was wanted for murder and couldn’t go to the hospital, but needed $1,700 for medical care. The caller directed the woman to Western Union to transfer the money to Puerto Rico.

Allen said the woman did not transfer the money, but initially was concerned because the caller knew she had a stepson.

When asked how the caller knew information about the victim, Allen said, it had to do with the caller goading the victim into providing enough information so they could deduce which relative they should say was in the accident.

He said it’s always $1,700 no matter the call and it’s always Western Union.

Allen said another victim lived in Georgia and had a family member who was reportedly involved in an accident and kidnapped. The victim had investigators and family in Alexander and Iredell counties as well as in Cleveland looking for a crash.

“People should know this is a hoax. Everybody who has been called has been under a tremendous amount of stress,” Allen said.

Salisbury Police say they have received a couple of reports of local residents receiving the same calls on their cellphones.

Police Capt. Shelia Lingle said the number shows up as a North Carolina 704 area code, but the calls were traced back to Puerto Rico.

Rowan County Sheriff’s Capt. John Sifford said in one of the incidents reported to investigators the caller said his name was William Pizarro.

Anyone who believes they were a victim of this scam is encouraged to contact their local law enforcement agency or call Crime Stoppers at 1-866-639-5245.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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