FBI warns of a frightening new ripoff: ‘virtual kidnapping’

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Authorities are warning consumers of a new fraud that works like a “Granny Scam”, where an older person receives a call from someone posing as a child or grandchild who has been arrested and needs money to post bail.

The new ripoff, called “virtual kidnapping” is slightly different, with a sinister twist, where the caller claims a loved one has been abducted, and is threatening to harm the person held hostage, unless a ransom is paid.

A mother and her 17-year-old daughter were recent targets of a virtual kidnapping, and are still too afraid to give out their names, but decided to share the frightening phone calls the daughter recorded on her cell phone.

In one call, there is an exchange between the mother, who believed her brother was being held, and the mysterious caller, “I want to talk to my brother,” and he responds, “You going to stay with me until we’re finished. I’m going to kill your brother on the phone.”

It started with a call from an unknown number. The caller said he was in a car accident with the women’s family member, who was kidnapped, injured, and the caller was demanding thousands of dollars in ransom money.

The mother described how the call started, “He started making me feel comfortable. He said don’t worry, he is okay, he is okay, he just got off work. So then I thought it was my brother.”

The caller said the loved one was her brother, and then got abusive, “You think this is a (expletive) joke? I can bring your brother right now and we can (expletive) shoot him the leg.”

The caller demanded money by wire transfer, but the family never did pay it, and eventually found out their loved one was okay.

Detectives say, there are groups out there that compile lists of people–scouring social media, studying habits, friends, and favorite places of would-be targets–which they sell to the scammers.

“They will buy that list, they will go on the phone, they will make a thousand phone calls,” said Ofc. Jack Richter of the Los Angeles Police Department, “out of that thousand phone calls, they may get one or two people.”
FBI kidnapping expert Eric Arbuthnot said virtual kidnapping is all about stealing your money, “thousands of dollars in ransom, and you are talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time.”

Authorities say virtual kidnappings have become a growing problem in New York, California, and two other states. The FBI and New City Police have jointly issued an alert, with tips for would-be victims when scammers try to scare them into paying a ransom.

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