FBI warns of virtual kidnapping cases during holidays

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(KTVI) With the holiday travel in full swing, the FBI is warning about a crime that would put any parent in panic mode.

Virtual kidnappings happen when con artists claim to be holding a family member for ransom.

Steven D’Antuono is the FBI Assist Special Agent in Charge in the St. Louis Division.

“You get that call as a parent. You get panicked. You start thinking, is this true?”

In a virtual kidnapping, a person is called by someone claiming to be a kidnapper. But here’s the catch: no one has been kidnapped.

“People travel in Mexico. Lose their phone, or lose their personal information,” D’Antuono said.

“The kidnappers are versed enough and sophisticated enough to take that information. And then use that to call the loved phones.”

The number of virtual kidnappings remains the same compared to this time last year, D’Antuono said. However, many of the cases happen during the busy holiday travel season. Most of the cases originate in Mexico, D’Antouno said. People on vacation lose their cell phones and the criminals spring into action.

Using that personal information, the kidnapping imposter will demand the family wire ransom money.

If it seems hard to believe, consider this – about 17% of virtual kidnappings cases – or one in five – are successful. That is, victims end up paying the money, only later to discover that they were tricked. “It’s a panic situation and loved ones are going to be very traumatized by this,” he said.

Retrieving the money can be extremely difficult. D’Antuono said awareness is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.

If you receive a text or call claiming a friend or family member has been kidnapped, call police immediately. Also, demand proof that the alleged kidnapped person is present. Demand a picture, or to speak to the person.

“Because if it’s a virtual kidnapping they don’t actually have the person. They might have the phone, or they might have the information, but they don’t physically have the person, “D’Antuono said.

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