The Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office says it has received reports of residents being targeted in virtual kidnapping extortion schemes.
“Although virtual kidnapping takes on many forms, it is always an extortion scheme — one that tricks victims into paying a ransom to free a loved one they believe is being threatened with violence or death,” the sheriff’s office warns. “Unlike traditional abductions, virtual kidnappers have not actually kidnapped anyone. Instead, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart.”
The sheriff’s office passes along these observations and tips from the FBI:
“The scammers attempt to keep victims on the phone so they can’t verify their loved ones’ whereabouts or contact law enforcement. The callers are always in a hurry, and the ransom demand is usually a wire payment to Mexico of $2,000 or less, because there are legal restrictions for wiring larger amounts across the border. Virtual kidnapping cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute because almost all of the subjects are in Mexico, and the money is wired out of the country and can be difficult to trace.”
“The success of any type of virtual kidnapping scheme depends on speed and fear. Criminals know they only have a short time to exact a ransom before the victims unravel the scam or authorities become involved.”
To avoid becoming a victim, look for these possible indicators:
— Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone, insisting you remain on the line.
— Calls do not come from the supposed victim’s phone.
— Callers try to prevent you from contacting the “kidnapped” victim.
— Calls include demands for ransom money to be paid via wire transfer to Mexico; ransom amount demands may drop quickly.
— In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
— If you do engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
— Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to your family member directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
— Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.
— Listen carefully to the voice of the alleged victim if they speak.
— Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone.
— 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 agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous.
“If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place or you believe a ransom demand is a scheme, contact your nearest FBI office or local law enforcement immediately. Tips to the FBI can also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov. All tipsters may remain anonymous.”
One resident confirmed below the sheriff’s online scam alert: “They called me the other day.”
And then a Sperryville woman quipped about those demanding a ransom, “Tell them to keep the person they are talking about, LOL.”