The parents of Central Coast congressional candidate Justin Fareed received a scare when they were called by self-identified Mexican Mafia members who claimed to have kidnapped Fareed's sister.
The caller turned out to be lying, and it's given the three-time candidate for federal office a chance to spread the word about a relatively new scam that's increasingly targeted Central Coast residents over the past two years.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office Lt. Butch Arnoldi confirmed Fareed's account of the incident, which Fareed described in an emailed statement to media and supporters Wednesday.
The Santa Barbara businessman wrote in the statement that on Wednesday afternoon Fareed's mother answered a call from someone claiming to be from the Mexican Mafia who said they had kidnapped Fareed's sister. The call was made more realistic by a female heard screaming in the background.
"Fortunately, we were able to determine that my sister was fine and that the call was a fake, but it was a horrifying experience for our family to go through," Fareed wrote.
In a tweet Wednesday featuring a photograph of Fareed standing with a sheriff's deputy, Fareed thanked the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office for quickly responding to the incident.
So-called "virtual kidnapping" scams are relatively rare, but the Sheriff's Office says it saw a spike in 2016. Lt. Ruben Cintron said the agency is continuing to investigate the Fareed family incident.
Fareed also said in his statement that the incident highlights "why it's so important to support our law enforcement officers." The Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriff's Association has endorsed Fareed in his bid to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal in the Nov. 6 general election.
The district includes San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties as well as a piece of northern Ventura County.