When a scammer pretends to hold someone hostage to convince their victims to pay a ransom fee in exchange for their loved one’s release, it’s called a virtual kidnapping scam.
Due to advancements in technology, personal information is readily available online. Like phishing, perpetrators can gather various personal details about someone using the internet, like their cell phone numbers, personal addresses, and names. A scammer can easily change the number that they are calling from, which means that they can make it appear as if they are calling from the victim’s phone. This makes it easy for scammers to fake a real kidnapping experience, as they can go as far as editing voice recordings and mimicking the voice of the victim’s loved ones.
It’s important to try an discern the difference between a real and fake kidnapping situation.
Why Is There An Increase In Virtual Kidnapping Scams?
According to the New York FBI chief of the Violent Crimes Unit, there has been a significant increase in virtual kidnapping over the past few years. It’s fast, profitable, not so easy to detect, and easy to execute for several reasons.
Playing on Human Emotions
Perpetrators rely largely on the human-psyche to easily induce people into a panic. Family members will normally do anything to save their loved ones from harm, meaning that it is easy to frighten an unsuspecting person. Frantic people aren’t likely to think logically about the situation if it seems real, and will likely pay the ransom fee.
Easy Access to Personal Information
Access to the caller ID information of other people can be used to hide the perpetrator’s identity and make it seem as if the call is coming from someone whom the victim knows. This is called spoofing. Due to advancements in technology and the growing variety of social media platforms, personal details are easy to acquire, making identity theft very easy.
Lack of Awareness
The widespread use of the internet has led to a fast-paced world that normalizes constant virtual communication. As we adapt to technological advancement, we aren’t aware of how much information we give away daily. We are often distracted by our busy lives, and cybersecurity can be an afterthought.
Difficulty to Track
These scams are easy to commit, as prepaid phones aren’t attributed to a person, which means that it is not so easy to trace. For example, social networking apps such as Skype can allow for faking caller ID information, as someone can use any number they like when it comes to setting their caller identification.
How Do I Recognize the Signs Of a Real Kidnapping Situation?
If you ever find yourself in a potential kidnapping situation, it is important to try and look for proof of actual, ‘real-time’ kidnapping. There several ways to gather proof.
- Ask the perpetrator if you can talk to the victim on the phone, or to see them on a video call. If he/she refuses, it is more likely that the kidnapping is a scam.
- Try to call the victim’s cellphone and assess whether he/she is really kidnapped, as it is easy to forget to actually check whether the one kidnapped is safe at home first. Check the cellphone number to see whether the perpetrator is actually using a fake caller ID. If possible, try to track the victim’s phone location.
- Ask personal questions to determine whether the perpetrator actually has the victim or not. For example, ask for detailed information that only you and the victim will know about, such as detailed childhood memories, personal secrets, or private conversations held in person.
What Are Some Of the ‘Telltale’ Signs of a Scam?
- Callers may try to keep you on the phone as long as possible, to prevent you from contacting the victim. They also may threaten you or the hostage to keep you in a panicked state and to prevent you from contacting the authorities.
- The demand for a ransom fee is often low, as smaller amounts are usually much easier to transact compared to larger amounts. Small transactions are also less suspicious, and therefore less likely to attract attention. Scammers will usually demand payment via electronic transfers or ‘drop-off’ points, as there is no actual kidnapping location.
- Calls may come from outside of the country/make use of an international code to try and avoid being tracked in the area.
- Calls are normally rushed/urgent, and perpetrators often threaten limited time.
What Do I Do Incase Of a Real Kidnapping Situation?
- Stall on the phone as much as possible. Ask them questions, pretend you cannot hear them and get them to repeat themselves. The more they are on the line, the more panicked they may become, and therefore more likely to give up if they start to realize that you might be aware of the scam.
- Tell someone. Report to the police, tell other family members and friends and get help a soon as possible. Try to remember details about the kidnapping so that you can relay accurate information. This will help police to determine whether the situation is real or not.
- Do not pay the ransom fee, whether its electronic or in person. The first thing to do is alert the police and get a well-informed, authoritative figure on the case. Never handle the situation on your own, as you may not be sure of whether the situation is genuine or not.
- Be cautious about personal information and who you give away your passwords to. Think about the kind of details that your social media accounts give away, and consider updating passwords, security codes and privacy settings. Always keep your close friends or family updated on your whereabouts. This is especially important when traveling, as identity theft during traveling often occurs due to the need for connecting to unknown Wi-Fi connections.
Remember, you need to keep up with technological advancements and social media, so be sure to keep informed about cybersecurity. For more information on scams, visit us at Anti Fraud News, where we inform you of the latest scams and cybersecurity tips!