Houston native loses over $1,000 in scam call, officials give tips to avoid becoming a victim

Army veteran and Houston native Felix Rios says August 10 was one of the scariest days of his life after becoming a victim of a common phone scam.

After leaving a doctor's appointment in El Paso with his pregnant wife, he received a disturbing phone call from whom he believed was his mother who still lives in Houston.

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"She sounded stressed," says Rios. "She said it in Spanish, "Felix, my son... I've been in an accident. Please help me."

He then says a Spanish-speaking man gets on the phone and says he has kidnaped Felix's mother and threatens to hurt her.

"He says my mom witnessed him moving some weapons and drugs out of this vehicle," says Rios. 

"And when she tried to drive away, I got my guys to grab her and I threw her in the back of my truck."

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The man tells Felix he would let his mother go if he wired money to him immediately. Felix grabs a total of $1,100 cash and sends it through Moneygram and Western Union transactions. 

It wasn't until near the end of the intense call that he received texts back from his mother, who was safe at work.

"I just burst into tears," says Rios. "I can't believe they had captured my mom's voice so well or made a recording of something like that. I mean, it does fool a lot of people." 

Rios has been told by both Western Union and Moneygram they will not be able to recover the funds because he paid in cash and sent it to a name that was provided to him. 


The $1,100 was all Rios and his wife had, as the former military police officer is currently looking for a job. 

Part of the cash was gifted to the young couple through a recent baby shower.

The Houston Better Business Bureau says these types of fraudulent calls, called Emergency Scams, are happening more often in Houston and across the country. 

Calls come in from someone claiming that your loved one is in danger, and they ask for a cash payment for them to be released or helped in an emergency. 

Scammers usually ask for an untraceable method, like cash payments, to make it difficult for authorities to find who's responsible. The calls can also come from local numbers.

"If you get that type of call, the best thing to do is not to provide any payment whatsoever, don't react or respond immediately, even though it can be a very scary call that you're getting," says Leah Napoliello, VP of Operations at BBB of Houston. 

"You can ask the caller for their contact information and ask them personal questions about your loved one. If it is a scam, they're not going to be able to provide those answers to you."  


The Federal Communications Commission reported Americans lost an estimated $30 billion in 2021 through fraudulent calls.

Felix's sister Kristal Jimenez tells FOX 26, they're also concerned that it's happening to many people in Latino communities. 

"They're hoping their experience will prevent others from losing large amounts of money. We still have a majority of family members in Mexico, so that is worrisome," says Jimenez. 

"The threat of having family taken from a cartel or anyone who is just trying to take money from Latinos that live in America...it's something that happens a lot more frequently than people talk about."