This “Virtual Kidnapping” Scam Is on the Rise—and It’s Horrifying

This is seriously scary.

phonecallPopTika/ShutterstockCon artists can try to trick you in a variety of ways. Some may start off harmless; maybe you pick up your phone and hear this four-word phrase or maybe you find a seemingly harmless package from FedEx on your doorstep. Those two instances seem innocent, they won’t get your mind racing and your heart skipping six beats. That isn’t the case with this new phone scam, which Patch describes.

“Valerie Sobel, a mom in Los Angeles, answered her phone one day about two years ago and had barely said hello when she was scared half to death. ‘We have your daughter Simone’s finger,” the caller told her. “Do you want the rest of her in a body bag?’”

Sobel proceeded to follow the supposed kidnapper’s instructions to T, wiring $4,000 in ransom and disposing of all evidence of the transaction. Her daughter was free from risk after the payment went through and free from risk before it. She was never abducted in the first place.

The scam is described by law enforcement as “virtual kidnapping for ransom.” These false abductions started occurring approximately four years ago. Special Agent Michelle Lee of the FBI describes the scam: 

“They are really, really good at making it sound like a very urgent situation. They create a situation of panic and chaos to get the victim to not think about those logical things you would normally walk through. They may hear the alleged victim screaming loudly, and there’s a lot of cursing, making demands, and rushing the victim.”

The scam calls are most frequent in areas with wealthy or immigrant populations. Since 2015, $114,000 has been paid out to false kidnappers in Los Angeles alone.

In some instances, the scammers will work in tandem to isolate the family members so that the authenticity of the situation is not called out. A wife will be called about a husband’s kidnapping, then recorded, then clips from the wife’s call will be used in a later ransom call to the husband.

None of these virtual kidnappings have led to any physical harm to the parties involved, only financial losses.
For more information on the scam and how to avoid becoming a victim, read Patch’s full feature.

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