Phone Scam Breakdown: The Kidnapping Scam

The first step in protecting against phone scams is understanding how they work. That’s why in this series, we’re breaking down some of the newest and most popular phone scams circulating among businesses and consumers.

phone-scam-breakdownThe Scam

Imagine its a Saturday afternoon. You’re catching up on some Netflix shows, and then you get a call from an unknown number.

The man on the phone tells you he has your brother and he’s going to hurt him if you don’t pay up. You say you’re going to call your brother and the man tells you if you do, he’s going to shoot him in the leg.  In the background, you can hear screaming, you’re sure its your brother.

The kidnapper asks how much money you have in your account, you tell him a little over a $1,000. He says if you don’t wire that money immediately, he’s going to kill your brother. In a panic you rush to the store and wire all the money you have to pay the ransom.

Thank goodness your brother is safe.

Here’s What Really Happened

You wait a day to call your brother, like the kidnapper told you. You asked him about the kidnapping, if he was ok, did they hurt him… but he has no idea what you’re talking about. He went on a date to the movies yesterday, he wasn’t kidnapped. You were scammed out of every penny in your bank account.

How did this happen? Well, fraudsters used several techniques to find information about you.

  • Social Media Reconnaissance – Attackers use social platforms such as Facebook to gather info on you, your family, and even the places you go regularly. With a few quick clicks on your profile, a scammer can find out who your siblings are, how you like to spend your weekends, and what your brother’s plans are.
  • Intimidation – Attackers will use intimidation and fear tactics to scare victims into believing their stories so they will give into demands.
  • Wire Transfer – Scammers will tell worried family members to wire money. Little do they know using phony accounts and details, this money can be accessed from anywhere making it hard to catch the attackers.

Kidnapping Scam Examples:

FBI Warns of Telephone Extortion Scam 

In September 2015, one family was targeted in California. Claiming to be a part of a Mexican drug cartel, the fraudsters demanded money in return for the victim’s brother. Luckily, the victim was able to get in touch with their loved one and was able to hang up on the attacker before any money was lost. The FBI are now involved due to the increase of this kidnapping scam in California, Nevada, and New York.

Virtual Kidnapping Scam Targeting Tourists

According to the FBI’s Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot, the virtual kidnapping scam is now targeting tourists. In July of this year, it was reported that US citizens are being targeted as they travel abroad by attackers who use drug cartel names as a means of legitimacy to intimidate and eventually trick victims into handing over money to get their loved ones to safety.

Virtual Kidnapping Scam on the Rise in New York City

New York City is seeing an increasing amount of the virtual kidnapping scam since January. The FBI warns residents of this scam, as well as gives a few red flags to watch out for.