The FBI and local law enforcement are advising the public to be wary of a phone scam known as virtual kidnapping, in which a victim is told his or her family member has been kidnapped and a ransom is demanded.
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.
The FBI Albuquerque Division has assisted local enforcement in New Mexico with several cases recently.
The perpetrators of these crimes are becoming more sophisticated. They are using social media and social engineering to dupe people into thinking their loved ones have been kidnapped.
If you have received one of these calls, contact the FBI at 505.889.1300.
In the New Mexico cases, the scammers attempted to keep victims on the phone so they could not verify their loved ones’ whereabouts or contact law enforcement. The callers demanded a wire payment to Mexico.
If you receive a phone call from someone demanding a ransom for a relative, the following should be considered:
In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone. Contact family members in the United States and Mexico to determine if they have been called as well.
If you do engage the caller, do not disclose your loved one’s name or provide any identifying information.
Try to slow the situation down. The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved.
Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask: “How do I know my loved one is OK?”
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. Often it is someone posing as the kidnap victim.
To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need more time.
Do not 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 nearest FBI office or local law enforcement immediately. Tips to the FBI also can be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov. All tipsters may remain anonymous.