I have been warning you about phony kidnapping scams, also known as virtual kidnapping, for seven years, but recently there has been a resurgence of this particular scam around the country.  The scam starts with a telephone call informing the person answering the phone that a child or other relative has been kidnapped and if they do not respond by wiring money right away, the relative will be killed.  As with so many scams, we are often our own worst enemy and this scam is no exception.  In many instances, the scammers gather personal information about the intended scam victims from information that the intended victims or members of their families post on social media.  Information harvested from social media may indicate that someone is traveling on vacation making it easier to make the phony kidnapping appear legitimate.  Armed with  personal information gathered from social media, a scammer can describe the supposed kidnapped victim or provide personal information that would make it appear that indeed they actually do have the person in their custody.  Sometimes the phony kidnappers manipulate your Caller ID through  a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is coming from the supposedly kidnapped family member’s cell phone.

Recently in Indiana, Mark Walker received a phony kidnapping call informing him that his daughter had been kidnapped and demanding a $1,000 ransom.  Walker, a private investigator was immediately skeptical due to the low amount of the demanded ransom.  While Mark Walker continued to talk with the phony kidnapper, Walker’s wife called their daughter who answered her cell phone and confirmed that she had not been kidnapped.

In 2017 the FBI issued a warning about virtual kidnapping.  Here is a link to the FBI warning.  https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/virtual-kidnapping

Many of the fake kidnapping scams, according to the FBI. are originating with calls from Mexico, where in many instances the calls are being made by prisoners who have bribed guards to supply them with cell phones.

TIPS

Always be skeptical if you receive such a call.  Never wire money to anyone for anything unless you are totally convinced that what you are doing is legitimate because unlike paying for something with a credit card, once your wired funds have been sent, they are impossible to get back.  Talk to the alleged kidnapper as long as possible, thereby giving someone else with you the time to call  or text the alleged kidnap victim on his or her smartphone.   If the purported kidnapping victim is a young child, call the school to confirm that he or she is safe.   You also could ask the kidnapper to describe your relative as well as provide information, such as his or her birth date, which could be found on a driver’s license, however, it is important to remember that much of this kind of information may be available through social media or elsewhere on the Internet. It also can be helpful for the family to have a code word to use to immediately recognize that this is a scam. If the kidnapper can’t provide the code word, it is clear that it is a scam.

Many of these kidnapping scams are originating in Puerto Rico or Mexico so be particularly skeptical if you receive the telephone call from Puerto Rican area codes 787, 939 or 856.  Also be wary of calls from Mexico which has many area codes which can be found by clicking on this link.  http://dialcode.org/North_America/Mexico/

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