Beware of Virtual Kidnapping Scams

Recently, a Forest Service employee received a call on a government issued cell phone. The call began with someone screaming for help. A second person came on the line and told the employee, "We have your daughter". The caller demanded money and instructed the employee to go to his bank and withdraw $10,000 to ensure his daughter's safe return. The employee quickly realized that it was a scam (has no daughter) and called law enforcement.

Virtual Kidnapping Scams

Virtual kidnapping is an extortion scam where a caller pretends to have kidnapped a relative or friend and demands ransom. Virtual kidnapping is typically a random call and can be terrifying. This scam depends on the recipient panicking and believing that the scammer has their loved one. Scammers will often threaten extreme violence against the kidnapped victim. Scammers often times will make it appear as if they know significant details about your loved one and will often imply they have hacked your phone. The scammers will demand small sums of money or however much can be quickly paid, whereas "true" kidnappers typically demand incredibly large sums. In virtual scams the caller will demand you go to your bank, withdraw the money and then either meet with them or electronically transfer the funds. Scammers will often times imply or overtly state that they are surveilling you as you go to the bank to obtain the money.

FBI Recommendations

To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:

  • Incoming calls from an outside area code, or foreign telephone number
  • Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone
  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone
  • Callers prevent you from calling or locating the "kidnapped" victim
  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service

If you receive a virtual kidnapping phone call:

  • Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, "How do I know my loved one is okay?"
  • If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak
  • Attempt to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Request the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
  • While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.

 Anyone who receives one of these calls or has information regarding a virtual kidnapping scam should call their local law enforcement.