Virtual kidnapping scams are on the rise! Imagine that you receive a phone call from a number you do not recognize. On the line, the caller tells you they have kidnapped your loved one and you hear a voice (that could be your loved one) screaming and crying for help in the background. This is a growing crime called virtual kidnapping.
They know your loved ones’ name and have information that makes the call seem real. To release your loved one safely, the criminals demand payment via Western Union or other forms of online payment.
What would you do?
This is the setting for an ongoing crime called virtual kidnapping. The criminals in this scam usually have done their homework including researching the victims’ social media sites and even hacking into the victim’s phone or computer.
The criminals have committed this crime many times before and know exactly what to say to make the scam seem like a real kidnapping.
Except in this crime, you are the victim and there is no kidnapping.
They are relying on you to panic and send them money quickly. They will try to force you to feel like you must make a fast decision, or your loved one will be harmed. They will create a scenario that they hope will give you the inability to think clearly and make smart decisions.
There are several variations on the scam currently in use. The origination of this crime is believed to have started in Mexico several years ago. In these crimes, American tourist were targeted with various extortion and kidnapping threats. Many of the recent calls are originating from Mexico or Puerto Rico.
Things that can make this scam seem real:
- They may know your love one’s name and provide correct information.
- You may hear a voice in the background screaming for help that sounds like your loved one.
- They may wait till your loved one has posted on social media that they are getting on a plane or away from the phone.
- They may know where you are and have hacked into the GPS on your phone and they can track your movement.
- They may target parents whose kids are at school and maybe in classes and can’t respond to text messages.
There are various ways that you could be targeted in these crimes. You or your loved one could have clicked on a phishing email and the criminals have hacked into your computer or phone to allow them to get the information they need to formulate this crime. You might have traveled to Mexico or Puerto Rico in the past and the criminals gathered information about you. Or you or your loved one shared too much information on social media that gave the criminals the details they needed.
The FBI has offered the following direction if faced with this crime:
- Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
- Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak.
- Attempt to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
- While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.
- Ask questions only the victim would know without offering any information.
To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
- Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.
- Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone.
- Contact law enforcement as soon as possible.
The value of security awareness training
This is another crime, where security awareness training can help to reduce risk. Being aware of new crimes and scams in the news is a fundamental part of security awareness training. Insuring that employees, family and friends are aware of this scam will greatly reduce the likelihood that you will be victimized.
Sharing new scams and crimes you hear about in the news with others, is important to ensure that the people you care about do not fall victim to these types of crimes.
The Center for Information Security Awareness, www.CFISA.org has been providing online and in-person security awareness training since 2007. The CFISA security awareness training stresses the importance of reducing the amount of information on social media and ways to protect yourself against these types of crimes.
Ongoing security awareness training is a great way to educate employees to the risk associated to this important issue.
Do you need help with security awareness training for your employees? Contact CFISA and we will help you with a training option to fit your budget!