Safety Alerts

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Dear Members of the HMS Community:
Both the Boston Police Department and the Cambridge Police Department have released information about a prevalent nationwide phone extortion scam.  Since July 1 there have been close to 70 incidents in Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea and Revere where unknown persons have called or texted the victim and made claims that a family member or loved one is being held captive and will be harmed or held until the victim pays a specific sum of money.  In several cases, the party being held captive is alleged to have been in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in property damage that he/she is unable to pay for or personal injury to a third party, often times a relative of the caller.  Two incidents were reported to the Harvard University Police Department this week.
It is not uncommon for the caller to know basic details about the victim’s life, including names of family members, places of employment and school information.  It is possible that this information is gathered through internet searches or websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  In some cases, the caller phones several members of the same family, extracting information from one person that is then leveraged against a relative to increase the credibility of the caller’s claims.
Victims are often told that if they hang up or contact the police or anyone else, harm will come to their loved one.  This scam appears to predominantly target the Hispanic community and is known to be an issue in several other cities across the United States.
Community members that receive a call similar to the above scheme are advised to:

  • Attempt to contact the person that is allegedly being held captive and confirm their wellbeing.
  • Ask the caller for specific information about where the family member is located.
  • Have the caller physically describe the family member to see if the caller can provide some level of detail that could help confirm or dispel the claim.
  • Note the phone number where the call or text originated and immediately report the incident to the Harvard University Police Department at 617-495-1212.

For questions about this alert, please contact the Harvard University Police Department's Public Information Officer, Steven G. Catalano, at 617-495-9225 or by email at


Editorial Staff

Editor: Amy Magin
Assistant Editor: Angela Alberti
Contributors: Shannon Patterson, Chelsea Keyes, Linda Miklas, Tania Rodriguez, Susan Vomacka