Scammers demand money after claiming they’ve kidnapped a loved one

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Some of the newest twists on scams are coming straight out of the movies. Virtual kidnapping is not a new scam; however, this new twist will have you thinking it’s real.

The scheme now starts by the scammer spoofing the supposed kidnapped phone number, alluding that the incoming call is actually from a loved one. Since the number is familiar, the victim picks up the phone and immediately hears demands coming from the other end of the phone.

The scammer claims they have the loved one that contacted you and that they are going to kill them unless a ransom is paid. The scammer then informs the victim that they are not to hang up the phone to contact the ‘kidnapped’ and to head to the nearest store that sells MoneyGrams.

In actuality, they don’t have your loved one and they’re probably not anywhere near them. Virtual kidnappers use stolen contact lists and troll the internet to find personal contact information about you and your family through social media and online search tools.

To bust the scam, the FBI recommends quickly reaching out to your loved one who’s allegedly been kidnapped to see if you can verify they are safe. If possible, stay on the line with the caller while quietly asking someone else to call the alleged kidnap victim. If no one else is available to make that call, discreetly text the victim. Once verifying their safety, hang up with the caller.

If you are not able to contact the alleged kidnapping victim, the FBI says you should request “proof of life” and “proof of possession” that could verify the caller is telling the truth. If the call is a hoax, the caller will resist all attempts to provide this type of proof.

The scammer’s main goal is to prey on your sense of urgency and create an enormous amount of stress to get you to act without thinking, “Does this make sense?”. The most important tip, if you receive a virtual kidnapping call, is to remain calm.

Fortalice, a nationwide cyber security company, offers the following advice to protect yourself from this scam:

  • Have a family secret code word:Get a secret code word with your family that people can’t guess on social media. So, say ‘If you have my kid, tell my kid to tell me the secret code word.’ Most of the time if it’s a scam they are not going to know the secret code word.
  • Have them slow down: Tell them you can’t hear them. Ask if you can call them back. Keep them talking. Scams like this fail as soon as the would-be target realizes their loved one is safe.
  • Contact the victim:As you keep the person talking, text the alleged victim to see if they are OK. Since the scammer is only changing the caller ID and does not have the victim’s real phone, your loved one can respond.
  • Report it:People should report virtual kidnappings threats to: The Internet Crime Complaint Center, The Federal Communication Commission, The Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau.”

For more tips, go to FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Virtual Kidnapping Scams

Source: BBB of North Alabama and Federal Bureau of Investigation

To report a scam, go to the BBB Scam Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses, go to

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