The phone rings in the middle of the night and when you answer it all you here is a young man or woman screaming that they have been taken. You are still half-asleep and all you can think of who is this, could it be your son Matthew or nephew James? And then a voice comes on the phone and says, “We have Matthew. He’s in a truck. We are holding him hostage. You need to pay a ransom and you need to do it now or we are going to cut off his fingers.”
You are now fully awake, and trying to comprehend what just transpired. The voice is pushing you to action, right now. They want money wired to Mexico or to make a money drop. Their admonishments not to involve police and building upon your thinking that your son Matthew is being held, plays to their advantage as they push to have you send the money. They are counting on whomever you just named in the call not being in close proximity to you.
You see, no one is in danger. This is the “Virtual Kidnapping” Scam and the FBI just issued a warning on this scam. The FBI advises these scams are being run out of Mexican prisons. The FBI describes the situation as,
The Mexican prisoners who carry out virtual kidnappings use the ransom money to pay bribes and to make their lives behind bars easier. And sometimes they use the money to buy their way out of jail. That’s the ultimate goal.
Here’s a CBS News piece on Virtual Kidnapping
The FBI warns that these calls are fully random and also, at times very targeted based on the harvesting of information from social network. Remember, the criminals of this world have all the time in the world to harvest your publicly available information. You may stymie these efforts by limiting what you publicly post on social networks. Public postings can and are harvested.
The FBI offers the following tips on how not to become a victim.
FBI tips on how not to be a Victim
The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved. To avoid becoming a victim, look for these possible indicators:
- Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone, insisting you remain on the line.
- Calls do not come from the supposed victim’s phone.
- Callers try to prevent you from contacting the “kidnapped” victim.
- Calls include demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer to Mexico; ransom amount demands may drop quickly.
- If you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, the following should be considered:
- In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
- If you do engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.
- Listen carefully to the voice of the alleged victim if they speak.
- Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous.
- If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe a ransom demand is a scheme, contact your nearest FBI office or local law enforcement immediately. Tips to the FBI can also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov. All tipsters may remain anonymous.
Please share this with your friends and relative so that they may be forewarned about this Virtual Kidnapping scam.
Source: Virtual Kidnapping — FBI