This story was first published on January 15, 2015. See also:
The FBI and New York City Police have published a press release warning members of the public about an increase in virtual kidnapping scams.
The press release notes:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York City Police Department are alerting the public to a new, frightening scam that is targeting New York City residents. In the scheme, individuals call claiming to have kidnapped a family member. While no actual kidnapping has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims
of the legitimacy of the threat. For example, a caller might attempt to convince a victim that her husband or son had gotten into a car accident with a member of a gang. The individual calling pretends to be a friend or relative of the gang member and tells the victim that their family member is seriously injured and needs to go to the hospital but that their friend will not allow them to go the hospital until he gets paid for the damages done to his vehicle. In another example, a caller might attempt to convince a victim that his daughter was kidnapped by having a young female scream for help in the background during the call. Often the reason they are holding the alleged victim varies, but some of the most prominent scams involve car accidents, drug debts, gang assaults, or persons being smuggled across the border. Victim telephone numbers appear to be dialed at random.
The FBI also makes the following suggestions:
- Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
- Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak.
- Attempt to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
- While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another 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 directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
- Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone.
Warnings about virtual kidnapping scams have circulated in various forms for several years. However, instances of the scam are apparently becoming more common.
The information and advice in the FBI press release are therefore well worth heeding.