Virtual Kidnapping Phone Scam Happening in New Mexico, FBI Warns

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on September 18, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In yet another phone scam preying on people's fears and emotions, the FBI is warning New Mexico residents to be wary of one more. Dubbed "virtual kidnapping," this one extorts victims by coaxing them into paying a ransom to free a loved one they believe has been kidnapped or is being threatened with violence or death. The calls seem to come from Mexico prisons. A few years ago, these calls were solely targeting Spanish speaking suspects. But now, anyone is fair game.

Virtual Kidnapping Using Social Media

The suspects have not actually kidnapped anyone. Through deceptive practices, including talking fast, making threats, and keeping the suspect on the phone so that the information cannot be verified, the suspects convince victims to pay a ransom before the victims can confirm that the call is a scam. Often, these suspects use social media to gather facts in order to convince the victim of the abduction.

Scammers try to keep victims on the phone so that they cannot check to see if their targeted relative is safe or not. While on the phone, they convince the victim to wire money to a Mexico account to free the relative. Usually the wire request if for $2,000 or less, due to limits at most wiring businesses. But scammers have been know to ask for more.

How Does the Call Go?

According to the FBI, a typical example of a call is as follows: when an unsuspecting person answered the phone, they would hear a female screaming, "Help me!" The screamer's voice was likely a recording. Instinctively, the victim might blurt out his or her child's name: "Mary, are you okay?" And then a man's voice would say something like, "We have Mary. She's in a truck. We are holding her hostage. You need to pay a ransom and you need to do it now or we are going to cut off her fingers."

Steps to Follow If You Get This Call

If you receive such a call, the FBI stresses that you should not disclose any identifying information. Instead, slow the situation down and request to speak to the family member directly. Carefully listen to the alleged victim if they speak, since it is likely to be someone else posing as the victim. Do not agree to pay ransom. Then, hang up the phone and contact the alleged kidnapping victim to make sure they are safe.

Virtual kidnapping cases are hard to prosecute because the suspects and the money wiring are often in Mexico and can be difficult to trace. If you or someone you love has received a call like this, or has fallen victim to this scam, contact the FBI.

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