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Scam Alert: Virtual Kidnapping Scams On The Rise

Beware of this scam that preys on parents and children alike. Called virtual kidnappings, hostage scams, or ransom scams, these are vicious tricks that exploit social media, using information from publically-shared posts to coerce victims into paying money in exchange for the safety of their loved ones. 

The FBI as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have both publicized the significant rise in this style of scam. To help you avoid being a victim, read up on some key information and tips. 

How the scam works: 

  • You receive a phone call from a person who claims a member of your family is being held captive.
  • Convincing sound effects in the background and threats against your loved one’s safety are used to convince you that:
    • Your loved one is in danger.
    • You need to stay on the line, or your loved one may be hurt.
    • You should not attempt to contact the ‘kidnapped’ family member. 
  • The scammer will then ask for a ransom, usually paid through a P2P payment app, wire transfers, gift cards, and Official Checks payable to the fraudster.

Understanding scammer tactics:
Scams like these can be extremely tricky to handle, and they take advantage of holes in their victims’ security in scarily convincing ways. These are the methods that scammers have used to trick the unsuspecting: 

  • Utilizing the fake kidnapping victim’s social media presence to spy on the places they may visit, the names of their friends and family, and other private details to make the threats sound more believable.
  • Faking caller ID information to appear as if they are calling from a familiar number or contact.
  • Taking on coercive identities, like drug cartel members or even crooked law enforcement officers.

How to avoid virtual kidnapping scams:
Here are some tips that can help your information stay out of fraudsters’ hands. 

  • Keep social media accounts private, or stay mindful of what your social media posts tell strangers.
  • Ensure you never post news of upcoming travel dates or locations online.
  • Have conversations about virtual kidnapping with family members.
  • Create a verbal password that you can ask for in an emergency to confirm that a loved one is really in trouble. 
  • Never provide financial information, or wire money to strangers over the internet.
  • Share this information and help raise awareness! 

In a high-stress situation like this, it is important to remember that it’s always okay to hang up and contact the loved one in question, as well as the proper authorities. If you have fallen victim to one of these scams, call 911, and request that the FBI is notified. You can also file a complaint with the FCC .  

Additionally, if you’ve given personal information, like your debit card number, Social Security number, login information, or Apple Bank account credentials to a scammer, call CustomerLine immediately at 914-902-2775 for assistance. Those using TDD can dial 800-824-0710.