How to spot and avoid virtual kidnapping scams targeting Illinois families – NBC Chicago

The Federal Bureau of Investigation – Chicago Division is warning of virtual kidnapping scams targeting families in Illinois and across the country.

The FBI said similar scams have been happening for at least two decades, but the recent scam has evolved to “exploit new vulnerabilities”.

“Virtual abductors scour the Internet for targets by looking for international travelers’ social media posts,” the FBI said in a statement.

Officials say the scammers are contacting the target’s family members claiming to have taken the person hostage. The person’s family is then forced to quickly pay a ransom to ensure the release of their loved one.

Typically, the FBI said virtual abductors will request payments by wire transfer and pressure families to act quickly.

Although the target was never in physical danger, the ransom money disappeared by the time family members realized the scam.

“Virtual kidnappers can be very convincing, often posing as members of drug cartels or corrupt law enforcement,” the FBI noted.

Family members may hear screams in the background of the call, but scammers have been known to use realistic recordings, according to the FBI.

Here’s what the FBI says to avoid virtual kidnapping scams:

  • Never post information about upcoming travel dates and locations online
  • Discuss virtual abduction with family members before any trip
  • Have a “password” that family members can request in an emergency to confirm that a loved one is really in trouble
  • Beware of providing financial information to strangers over the phone

Here’s how to recognize a virtual kidnapping scam, according to officials:

  • Calls cannot come from the kidnapped target’s phone
  • Callers go to great lengths to keep victims on the phone
  • Callers are generally unable to answer simple questions about targets such as their appearance
  • Ransom money is only accepted via bank transfer service
  • Callers request that ransom funds be transferred to multiple people in multiple small amounts

The FBI has asked anyone who thinks they are the target of a virtual kidnapping scam to immediately call 9-1-1 and request that the FBI be notified.

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