KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knoxville Police Department's Latinx Task Force gathered to discuss how leaders could address a new issue impacting communities of color in the city.
They said four people so far received messages that threatened violence unless the victims paid money to a scammer. The messages contained cartel imagery which can contain threats against the victim's life. Sometimes, they said victims could receive graphic kidnapping images.
The task force warned that the scammers make an effort to seem like they personally know the victim, adding to the intensity of the threats. They may use the names of victims or use addresses associated with them.
Usually, Latino Task Force Chair Rosie Noriega said, the scammers ask for money in exchange for the safety of a loved one. They may also say the victim owes money to a drug cartel notorious for violence.
"Basically they receive a video that is very graphic and violent and they threaten to harm people that they know, that they love in their country," Noriega said.
She said scammers have been seen sending graphic kidnapping images or videos followed by death threats if the victim doesn't meet their demands. These scammers, Noriega said, make it seem like they really know the victim, using correct names and addresses.
"They are so scared of course so they send the money," Noriega said, "so we need to get this information out to the community so that no one else in our community falls prey
However, a KPD spokesperson said the scams are usually perpetrated by people from outside of the U.S. who are not geographically close to the people they're targeting.
"It's fairly common for scammers to pose some type of threat to force victims to provide money or other personal information. In this case, the scammers are making explicit threats of violence to coerce the victim," said Scott Erland, a spokesperson for KPD. "We just want the Latino community to be aware and not act on those threats if they receive similar messages."
The task force also said that communities of color are usually targeted because they may be hesitant to trust some prominent sources of information, such as the police department or community leaders. They also said communities are less likely to report crimes committed against them, giving scammers more of a chance to successfully intimidate victims.
Carlos Allavena is the President of the Latino Chamber of Commerce President of East Tennessee. He is actively involved in the Knoxville Latinx community and attends monthly meetings with the Latinx Task Force.
Allavena said these cartel images can be frightening. That is why scammers use them and what makes victims fall for them. That fear, he said, is not necessary when it comes to these scam messages.
"Whatever is happening in the old country, they think that it can happen here," Allavena said. "I keep telling them, don't be afraid. Report every single call. Every single email. You are in the United States where you are protected."
KPD said if you get one of these messages or calls, do not act to any threats. Hang up and call the Knoxville Police Department at (865) 215-7450. You can also report a crime in person at 800 Howard Baker Jr. Ave, Knoxville, TN 37915.