Tags: Homeland Security | Law Enforcement | Mexico | fbi | kidnapping | phone calls | scam

FBI Warns Public of Frightening Virtual Kidnapping Scheme

FBI Warns Public of Frightening Virtual Kidnapping Scheme
(Ramon Tonito Zayas/AP)

By    |   Tuesday, 17 October 2017 04:33 PM

The FBI is warning the public of a frightening phone scam where callers trick victims into paying ransoms to free family or friends who have been "kidnapped."

The decades-old virtual kidnapping scam was once limited to Mexico and Southwest border states, but the FBI found in a recent investigation that more than 80 people had fallen victim to the scheme, including families in Minnesota, California, Idaho, and Texas, with losses of more than $87,000 in ransom money.

Almost all of the schemes originate from within Mexican prisons and a majority of the victims are Spanish speakers who reside in the Los Angeles and Houston areas.

"In 2015, the calls started coming in English," said FBI Los Angeles Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot, "and something else happened: The criminals were no longer targeting specific individuals, such as doctors or just Spanish speakers. Now they were choosing various cities and cold-calling hundreds of numbers until innocent people fell for the scheme."

Here's how the scheme works: A person answers the phone, hears a female screaming, "Help me!" Instinctively, the victim sometimes blurts out his or her child's name: "Mary, are you OK?" 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."

Most of the time, Arbuthnot said, "the intended victims quickly learned that 'Mary' was at home or at school, or they sensed the scam and hung up. This fraud only worked when people picked up the phone, they had a daughter, and she was not home," he explained. "But if you are making hundreds of calls, the crime will eventually work."

The ransom demand is typically $2,000 or less and victims are instructed to wire the payments to Mexico.

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Criminals are engaging in a frightening phone scam where callers trick victims into paying ransoms to free family or friends who have been "kidnapped," the FBI warns.
fbi, kidnapping, phone calls, scam
311
2017-33-17
Tuesday, 17 October 2017 04:33 PM
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