FBI Warns of Virtual Kidnapping Scam
The FBI has issued an updated bulletin warning the public about the rising threat of “virtual kidnapping scams,” in which unseen bad guys call a victim and demand ransom for an allegedly kidnapped loved one. Here's what you need to know...
Be Aware of New Kidnapping Scams
"We have your daughter... she's in a van... and you've to got pay $2000 by wire transfer NOW, or else..." Scenarios like these, targeting parents and grandparents, are becoming more common, and more sophisticated.
The FBI bulletin warns people to be aware of a new type of bogus kidnapping scam. While no one has actually been kidnapped, the crooks often use co-conspirators to imitate the “hostage’s” voice and even scream in fake agony to convince the victim to pay up right this very minute.
The crooks go to great lengths to keep the victim on the phone and talking, so that he/she doesn’t have time (or even think) to try to contact the alleged hostage via another phone, social media, email, etc. They also insist on payment of a ransom via a wire transfer, money order, or some other untraceable and unrecoverable payment method.
Yes, this scam actually works. With no trouble at all, I found two news reports in which victims paid the ransom demanded, only to learn later that the “hostage” was never in any danger. Both cases happened near the Texas-Mexico border, but would such a scam “play in Peoria?”
The FBI says yes. Up until sometime in 2015, most of these calls originated from Spanish speakers in Mexican prisons, where inmates would bribe guards for cell phones. But more recently, the scam has evolved so that people anywhere in the USA could be potential victims. Using English, and targeting people across the country, the FBI says kidnap scammers victimized over 80 people in in California, Minnesota, Idaho, and Texas.
Scammers can also glean details from the parent or alleged hostage’s social media accounts, such as names and ages of children, and other details that can be used to convince the victim that their son, daughter, or grandchild is in danger. Too many Facebook users like to announce that they’re going on vacation, even posting the names and photos of the hotels they’ll be staying at and other details that can help a scammer convince a victim they really did kidnap a loved one.
The Guardian newspaper published an article on virtual kidnappings which included an account of a Los Angeles area mother who was duped into believing her young daughter was taken hostage.
Tracy Holczer was driving with a friend to their writers’ group in a suburb of Los Angeles when she got a terrifying call on her cellphone from a number she didn’t recognize. A hysterical girl was screaming on the other end of the line. “Mommy, please help me! Someone grabbed me, and I’m in a van. I don’t know where I am!”
A Tough Call...
What would you do - laugh and hang up? Most parents would err on the side of believing. “It sounded like my daughter,” recalls Ms. Holczer. Of course, all hysterical young girls sound alike, and scammers practice sounding hysterical and young. But terrified parents are not thinking very rationally. It turned out that Ms. Holczer’s daughter was safely enjoying a youth summer camp; she was not kidnapped and was never in danger.
The FBI advises everyone who receives a “kidnapping” phone call to keep calm and slow the rapid-fire conversation down. Repeat everything the caller says, claiming that you want to get it right. Say you need to find a pen and paper to write down instructions. Don’t call out your loved one’s name, because the scammers may not know it.
Meanwhile, you should be waving to anyone nearby for help; use that pen and paper to ask them to contact your loved one by phone, text, or social media, to make sure they are not in danger. When you're certain of that, hang up.
And, of course, call the police as soon as possible. It’s vital to track the locations of these criminals, and the sooner police can get on the job of tracing the “kidnapping” call you received, the safer everyone will be.
Please feel free to post your comment below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 9 Feb 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- FBI Warns of Virtual Kidnapping Scam (Posted: 9 Feb 2018)
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