I have been warning you about phony kidnapping scams, also known as virtual kidnapping, for seven years.  The scam starts with a telephone call informing the person answering the phone that a child or other relative has been kidnapped and if the person receiving the call does 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.

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

Virtual kidnappings are a worldwide problem.  Recently in Australia, there has been a significant increase in the number of virtual kidnappings particularly targeting Chinese college students studying in Australia.  In one variation of the virtual kidnapping scam as it is being done in Australia, the scam starts with a robocall that purports to inform the person receiving the call that a package needs to be delivered to them.  If the victim continues with the call, he or she speaks with someone who talks to them in Mandarin, asks for personal information and promises to call back.  However, the follow-up call, which purports to be from the Chinese government informs the person receiving the call that the package contains illegal contraband and threatens the scam victim with deportation or imprisonment.  By “spoofing” the call, the scammers can make the call appear on Caller ID as if the call is originating from the Chinese embassy.  The targeted scam victim is then told that in order to avoid these problems, they must immediately check into a hotel, turn off their phone and not communicate with anyone.  In some instances, the victim is told to send a photo or video of them in the hotel.  Meanwhile, the scammers then contact the parents of the student, telling them that their son or daughter has been kidnapped and they provide the photo or video as evidence of the fact that this is a real kidnapping.  A ransom demand follows and ransoms have been paid of as much as 2 million Australian dollars to the scammers.


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 Mexico so be particularly skeptical if you receive the telephone call from Mexico which has many area codes which can be found by clicking on this link.  http://dialcode.org/North_America/Mexico/  Other hotspots for this scam have been in Taiwan and Cuba.

In regard to this particular version of the virtual kidnapping scam, it is important to remember that no Chinese authorities will contact students and demand money to be paid.

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