FBI warns about virtual kidnapping scams in Montana | State | #socialmedia | #cybersecurity | #infosecurity | #hacker

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:

Calls are usually made from an outside area code

May involve multiple 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

Try to:

Stay calm.

Try to slow the situation down.

Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.

Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is OK?”

Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cellphone

Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak, and ask questions only they would know.

If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.

While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.

Attempt to text or contact the victim via social media.

Attempt to physically locate the victim.

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 directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.

Anyone with information about these fraud schemes should call the Salt Lake City FBI at (801) 579-1400.

For more information on virtual kidnapping for ransom schemes, go to: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/virtual-kidnapping.

For more information on scammers targeting families who post missing persons on social media, go to: https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2021/PSA210514

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