More and more, people in New York City have been on receiving end of this terrifying phone call: “We’ve kidnapped your family member, we’re holding them hostage, and you need to pay us money right now if you ever want to see them again.”
But there hasn’t been a sudden rise in kidnappings. Instead, the FBI says there’s been a jump in the number of scammers who are are calling people at random and telling them that a family member has been kidnapped. Theses are called virtual kidnappings.
“While no actual kidnapping has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat,” The FBI warns.
According to the FBI, the scammer will sometimes claim that the hostage got into a car crash with a gang member and the other family wants money to repair the damaged vehicle. Other tactics include claiming that the hostage was involved in a drug deal, or saying that they have been smuggled across a border.
The crime gangs have some clever ways of getting their money. The FBI says that they use young women to make screaming noises in the background of calls, making it sound as if someone has actually been kidnapped. They also hurry people into sending the payment while on the call, saying that the transfer needs to be made as soon as possible. After sending up to $US1,900, the fake hostage-takers may then ask for more money to ensure the release of the kidnap victim.
Here’s what the FBI says you should do if you receive a call from someone who claims to have kidnapped your relative:
- Ask to speak to the hostage.
- Ask the kidnapper to describe the hostage.
- Listen to the voice of the kidnap victim.
- Try and get in touch with the hostage through social media, phone calls or text messages to check if they’re OK.
- Make some more time for yourself by repeating the kidnapper’s request back to them, or claim to be writing down what they’re saying.
- Try and avoid arguing with the kidnapper.
- Ask for the hostage to call you from their own phone.
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