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FBI offers tips to avoid falling victim to virtual kidnapping scams

File photo courtesy of the FBI

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The FBI wants the public to be aware of virtual kidnapping scams.

Officials launched a nationwide campaign on Monday to educate potential victims about the threat and how to report it.

The FBI says the current trend in virtual kidnappings for ransom is an English-language extortion call from Mexico to U.S. victims with absolutely no connections or ties to Mexico.

“Although virtual kidnapping takes on many forms, it is always an extortion scheme – one that tricks victims into paying a ransom to free a loved one they believe is being threatened with violence or death,” said the FBI Monday.  “Unlike traditional abductions, virtual kidnappers have not actually kidnapped anyone. Instead, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart.”

To avoid becoming a victim, the FBI says to 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, authorities say 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.
  • Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about you or your family.
  • Attempt to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
  • 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 ic3.gov.