Cops warn of ‘virtual kidnapping’ phone scam

Monroe police are warning residents about a recent string of phone scams termed “virtual kidnapping.”

Capt. Keith White said the department has received five reports — two of which were reported Friday — of residents receiving calls saying the caller has “some type of control of their loved one.” White said the caller then demands that money be sent to a specific location to further ensure the loved one’s safety.

According to the department’s Facebook page, “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.”

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. White said a resident who receives such a call should hang up, contact the loved one to verify the person’s safety, then call the police department.

“Do not allow the caller to create panic,” said White, “and do not send money to someone you do not know.”

In one call reported on Friday, the caller claimed to have the person’s daughter and demanded that money be sent to ensure her safety, The other report was a caller talking to the resident about her husband. White said in some scam attempts, callers say a loved one has been in an accident and medical treatment cannot be performed without money being sent immediately.

“People can understandably panic. They insist on sending the money — sometimes they don’t even believe us,” said White. “But you need to think logically. Does what is being told to you make sense? Immediately reach out to the person they are talking about to verify that they are OK.”

White said money distribution vendors — including Rite Aid, Big Y Supermarkets and Western Union — are all aware of such scams and will attempt to delay such money transfers and call police if the transaction is deemed suspicious.

White said if the caller demands that money be sent outside the country — for example, to Puerto Rico, as in some of the calls reported in Monroe — that is a signal that the call is an attempt to scam money from the person.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation website, “the success of a 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.”

To avoid becoming a victim, the FBI said, people should be aware of the following:

  • 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 call from someone demanding a ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, the FBI says, consider the following:

  • 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. Ask 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 the person speaks.
  • Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and ask the person to call back from their cell phone.
  • To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell the person 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.
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