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FBI warns public not to fall for 'virtual kidnapping' scam

The FBI is warning people to be vigilant against the 'virtual kidnapping' scam, which is reported on the rise in cities in the southern and western U.S.

According to the FBI, the scammer calls the victim, claiming to have kidnapped a family member or friend. In exchange for their release, the caller demands money. But there is no kidnapping, according to the FBI. It's all a fraud designed to scare victims into wiring them money.

According to investigators, often times there are co-conspirators to help make the calls seem legitimate. For example, one of the scammers might have a young female scream in the background of the call.

The scammers will often make their victims believe they are being watched and were personally targeted, but the FBI says the calls typically originate from outside the U.S.

The scammers can target anyone, but the FBI says they focus most on physicians.

To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:

  • Incoming calls made from an outside area code

  • Multiple successive phone calls

  • Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim's phone

  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone

  • Callers prevent you from calling or locating the "kidnapped" victim

  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service


  • If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:

  • 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 only the victim would know

  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone


  • If you have any question about whether the call is a scheme or a legitimate kidnapping, contact your nearest FBI office immediately. Tips can also be submitted online. All tipsters may remain anonymous.

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