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Posted on: March 19, 2018

Virtual Kidnapping

virtual kidnapping

Recently, there have been three reported “Virtual Kidnappings” by victims in Watsonville. Virtual Kidnapping is an extortion scheme and has been around for decades. There are steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim.

One victim was on his way to transfer the money when he flagged down an officer. It was Identified as a scam by once the loved one was contacted.  One of the victims wired an undisclosed amount of money to the suspect in Mexico only to find her loved one at home and unharmed.  The third, the victim was on her way to the bank when she flagged down police.  It was quickly discovered the call was a scam.

Typically criminals will make a large amount of cold calls to random phone numbers from a specific area code.  The suspects will sometimes play a prerecorded sound of a woman screaming in the distance in hopes that the call taker would respond with concern like, “Mary are you OK?”  The suspects would then tell the victim that they had “Mary” and would torture or harm her if money was not wired to them.  The suspect would demand that the victim remain on the phone while they arrange a money transfer.  This is usually so the victim would be unable make a phone call to verify if “Mary” was alright.  

Once the money transfer is complete, the suspect ends the call.  The victim would then contact “Mary” to discover that she had never been abducted.  This type of scam is not often effective but the criminals will make hundreds of calls hoping to find one person who will fall for their scam.  Some of these scams have contacts in the area where the victim Is located and a money drop is demanded. 

According to the FBI, many of these calls originate from prisons in Mexico.  The amount of money demanded is usually under $2000 because there are legal restrictions for wiring larger amounts across the border. 

There are steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim.  The following are possible indicators that the call you receive may be a scam:

  • 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 local Law Enforcement Agency.

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