The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning the public about virtual kidnapping scams targeting families in western Montana.
In 2020, Montana had 186 victims of extortion with losses totaling $413,176, officials said.
FBI Salt Lake City has recently received reports of victims getting calls from scammers claiming to have kidnapped a loved one and threatening to harm them unless a ransom is paid. No one is physically kidnapped in these schemes.
Many of these calls originate in Mexico.
In one recent case, a scammer convinced a Kalispell man that his son was in danger and defrauded the victim out of thousands of dollars. In another case, criminals targeted a woman whose daughter was reported missing earlier this year.
The scammers used phishing techniques and information from social media posts to try and convince the woman that the teen was in immediate danger. The woman did not pay the ransom. These schemes typically involve someone who contacts a victim by telephone and demands payment. The callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat.
Callers, sometimes representing themselves as members of a drug cartel or corrupt law enforcement, will provide the victim with instructions, to ensure safe “return” of the allegedly kidnapped person. These instructions usually involve demands of a ransom payment to be made immediately and typically by wire transfer.
The callers will often go to great lengths to engage victims in ongoing conversations to prevent them from verifying the status and location of the “kidnapped” individuals. Callers will often make their victims believe they are being watched and were personally targeted.
In reality, many of these callers are outside of the United States, simply making hundreds of calls, possibly using phone directories or other phone lists.
The FBI believes most virtual kidnappings for ransom schemes are unreported and wants to raise awareness.
Look for the following possible indicators:
Anyone with information about these fraud schemes should call the Salt Lake City FBI at (801) 579-1400.