Don’t Fall for This “virtual Kidnapping” Scam

As unlikely as it may be, every parent can imagine the horror and helplessness they would experience if they knew their child had been kidnapped. The emotional outburst you experience, especially if your child calls you for help, can overwhelm you, causing you to act recklessly and do everything possible to win him back. This is exactly what the developers of the new “virtual kidnapping” scam are counting on.

Here’s what you need to know about “virtual kidnapping” schemes, including how to spot them before you become a victim.

How does the “virtual kidnapping” ransom scam work?

According to the Los Angeles Times , the perpetrators of these schemes will call parents and try to make them believe that their child has been kidnapped and demand immediate payment of the ransom. All this time, the child is still safe at school or with a nanny, but the scammers hope you don’t find out until you pay up.

As FBI agent Eric Arbuthnot told the LA Times, this scam usually comes from inmates in foreign prisons. Fraudsters will simply call Americans, hoping to find a person with children.

When your phone rings, you will hear the child yelling something like “Mom, dad, help me!” The scammers are hoping you will name your child so they can use it to play along. The “kidnapper” will then tell you what terrible things he will do to your child if you don’t send him money immediately.

Scammers usually ask you to send money via Western Union or MoneyGram. They won’t ask too much to avoid triggering current US regulations preventing people from transferring large sums of money to foreign countries, Arbuthnot said, but it means they’ll be making more calls to make up for it. Fraudsters also tend to be bad at covering their tracks, as they are already in jail overseas and have no fear of being prosecuted in the US.

What to do (and not to do) if you are the victim of a ransom scam

If you suspect that this is not your child in the other line (perhaps because he is next to you or you do not have one), your best bet is to hang up. If you’re unsure but still feeling overwhelmed, the FBI’s advice is to hang up but make sure your child is okay immediately, as if the ransom was real, the kidnapper would keep calling you and the scammer would most likely go would go further. to the next number. Arbuthnot also points out that most kidnappers don’t call you at all because they aren’t usually after money – not entirely reassuring, but good enough reason to think twice if you get a call asking you to pay.

What you should be concerned about is what you expose to scammers. The New York State Department says the best way to verify a call like this is to ask questions that only your child knows the answers to. Given that technology has made a lot of personal information about you readily available, don’t ask questions like “when is your birthday?” Instead, ask something specific but harmless, such as “What’s our dog’s favorite treat?” Ideally, you should have a safe word that your child can use to let you know they are in danger.

Be careful not to reveal your child’s name or gender. Fraudsters will deliberately wait for you to fill in these gaps in order to use the information against you. If you suspect that you are being lied to, you can enter the wrong name or gender to confirm that your child is in fact not at risk.

Remember, their goal is to put you in a state of panic so that you stop thinking logically. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), if you are forced to act immediately and send money without consulting anyone , this is a red flag.

Another ransom scam option

As noted, our lives are intertwined with social media and scammers can use this against you. A more sophisticated version of this scam will use personal information readily available through the internet and social media to make the attempt to scam you look more convincing. The scammer may know your child’s name, the specific clothes they wear, hobbies or hairstyles, and use this to trick you into believing they really have been kidnapped.

A personal safe word known only to you and your child is the best defense in such situations. Talk to other family members who may not be as tech-savvy so they know how to respond too. Keep confidential information as far away from social media as possible, and it is recommended that you post any posts about your child as “friends only”. If they are old enough to have their own accounts, teach your kids about general online safety.

What to do if you are the victim of a ransom scam

If you have lost money as a result of a ransom scam, report it through the FTC Portal and contact the FBI at (202) 324-3000 or online .

If you paid the scammer with a credit card, you may be able to get your money back if you call the issuer and report that it was a fraudulent payment. If it was a bank transfer, you should be able to do the same while you are acting before they withdraw the funds .

The FTC has prepared a complete list of steps to take if you find yourself in this unlikely situation.


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