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Virtual kidnapping in Texas? It’s real, and this scary trend is on the rise, FBI warns

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning residents of McAllen, Texas — specifically Rio Grande Valley — to be aware of “virtual kidnapping.”

“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,” according to the FBI.

Per the FBI, “between 2013 and 2015, investigators in the FBI’s Los Angeles Division were tracking virtual kidnapping calls from Mexico — almost all of these schemes originate from within Mexican prisons. The calls targeted specific individuals who were Spanish speakers. A majority of the victims were from the Los Angeles and Houston areas.”

Victims of these calls are made to feel that their family member has actually been kidnapped and that they have a certain amount of time to pay before something “tragic” happened to whomever the scammer claimed they kidnapped.

And the scam has been hitting residents of the Rio Grande Valley “in the last several weeks” as the FBI says “multiple law enforcement agencies have seen a rise in the number of victims reporting they have been scammed out of large sums of money,” according to KXXV.

Often “the intended victims quickly learned that ‘Mary’ was at home or at school, or they sensed the scam and hung up,” FBI Los Angeles Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot said. “This fraud only worked when people picked up the phone, they had a daughter, and she was not home.

“But if you are making hundreds of calls,” he continued, “the crime will eventually work.”

The FBI has listed the following steps to look out for from this type of scam, along with advice:

  • “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.”
Tyler Carter, a Real-Time reporter based out of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is an avid lover of media, fitness, sports and telling impactful stories. Previously, he served as a trending/breaking news/crime reporter for AL.com and The Mississippi Press.
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