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Only on virtual ‘kidnapping’ scams, FBI warns

A keyboard of the computer is lit up by a cyber-code is seen in this illustration photo taken on March 1, 2017. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration)

Virtual kidnapping scams that try to dupe victims into paying a quick ransom are on the rise, a new FBI bulletin says.

The virtual aspect of the scam is to organize a scene, either on the telephone or via the social media in an attempt to convince the victim that a loved one is kidnapped, the FBI’s Albuquerque Division said in a community outreach note released this week. The criminals then demand a ransom.

Criminals attempt to quickly dupe people before the scam is exposed. “They force the victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart,” according to the FBI in Albuquerque, which has contributed to the local police in New Mexico with a number of recent cases.

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“The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on the speed and fear. Criminals know that they only have a short time to exact a ransom for the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved,” the FBI said.

A victim may also be contacted via sms or social media, and then a request for a call-back via the mobile phone, the FBI said.

The scam may go something like this, according to a more detailed report about the virtual kidnapping released by FBI in October last year:

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A victim, when they answer the phone, hear a female voice screaming: “Help me!” The victim, in shock and thinking of the voice of their own, your child can blurt out the name of the child, such as “Maria.” Then a person on the other side, now knowing the name of the child, confirms that “Mary” is held as a hostage and a ransom must be paid immediately, or that the child will be harmed.

In the cases that have occurred in New Mexico, the scammers attempt to keep victims on the phone, so they would not have the ability to control or their loved ones place of residence or contact with law enforcement, according to this week’s FBI outreach.

Fortunately, the victims often find out it is a scam and hang up, said FBI Los Angeles Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot, writing in the October report.

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“This fraud only worked if people picked up the phone, she had a daughter, and she was not at home,” Arbuthnot said. “But if you are making hundreds of calls, the crime will eventually work.”

Los Angeles is also seeing an increase in these scams. In April, a woman received a call with screaming in the background – a man who claimed to have kidnapped her son, the Los Angeles Times reported. The man threatened to kill the child and demanded ransom, the report said.

“The perpetrators of these crimes are becoming more sophisticated. They are using social media and “social engineering” to dupe people,” the FBI said in a recent note.

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