Virtual Kidnapping Phone Scam
Captain Brian Humphrey
Carson City Sheriff’s Office
The Carson City Sheriff’s Office has recently seen an increase in what is known as a “Virtual Kidnapping Scheme”. This is where criminals call unsuspecting people on their cell phone, based on research, and convince them they have kidnapped a family member, demanding a ransom be paid quickly.
The caller will use deception and threats of violence to convince the victim they are holding a family member hostage. Then the caller will demand the victim to electronically pay funds for the release of the family member. The caller will go to great lengths to keep the victim on the phone insisting they remain on the line the entire time of the transaction. They will also instruct the victim not to notify law enforcement or harm will be done to their family member.
The caller uses a method known as “spoofing” which is a technique to disguise their real phone number and make it look like any number they want. The caller will demand the victim respond to a nearby financial institution to withdraw a large amount of money. They will then instruct the victim to transfer money to them in some fashion.
Carson City Sheriff’s Deputies have responded to several of these calls during the past few weeks while the victims were still at the banks. Thankfully, the banks reacted quickly and reported this to our agency. When deputies arrived they learned the victim was still talking with the suspects on the phone. The victims were convinced the caller had their family member due to someone screaming/yelling/crying in the background. The suspect also knew personal information including names of family members. In each incident deputies were able to calm the situation down, obtain information on the alleged kidnapped victim, and then make contact, verifying they were safe and not being held against their will.
These types of scams have been around for a long time. Similar scams involve the caller stating your loved one has been involved in a terrible accident or is in jail needing money right away. In all of these situations the public should notify law enforcement immediately for assistance. Do not send money! First find a way to contact the family member in question. While we will never say never, we have found in all of the incidents reported to us the family member has been safe and was not being harmed.
If you receive a call from someone demanding money for a ransom, the following are some actions to consider:
* Stay calm.
* Slow the situation down.
* Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.
* Listen carefully to the voice of the “kidnapped” victim.
* Attempt to call or determine the location of the “kidnapped” victim.
* Request to speak to the victim.
* Ask questions for which only the victim would know answers; have a family code word.
* Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone.
* Try to use another means of contacting the family member that has allegedly been kidnapped.
* Avoid placing personal information on social media
* Promptly update computers and mobile devices
* Have strong passwords for websites and change them frequently
* Use only trusted website and apps
* Allow unknown telephone numbers to go to voicemail (and set a password for your voicemail account)
* Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device
The majority of these calls are originating from outside of the country. With the ability to spoof phone numbers it makes it nearly impossible to investigate or prosecute these types of scams on the local law enforcement level. Prevention and proactively protecting your personal information is critical.