Scammers identify missing people through social media posts – the starting point for extortion schemes, the FBI said in a advisory.
The system is designed to obtain prompt ransom payments from families of missing persons “who are manipulated into believing that their loved one has been kidnapped, is in danger of being kidnapped or is in imminent danger,” the FBI said.
The scheme generally proceeds as follows.
Through social media, crooks first collect information about the missing person and family, which lends credibility to their ransom demands.
Then they usually get the family’s phone numbers from social media and use third-party calling or messaging apps to demand a ransom in order to hide their real phone number.
Fraudsters can then pretend that the missing person is sick or injured. This amplifies the urgency of the situation in an attempt to pressure the family to make a prompt payment of the ransom.
Criminals typically demand between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 in ransom.
The FBI cited a few examples. In one case, after a mother reported her 13-year-old daughter missing, the family took to social media for help and provided her phone number. Crooks, claiming to have abducted the girl, used this number to demand a ransom. The girl was eventually brought home on her own, the FBI said.
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In another incident, a family reported the disappearance of an 18-year-old woman and local media learned of the disappearance. Then the family posted a request for information on social media, along with a phone number. Crooks, claiming to have abducted the woman, have contacted the family. “One of the crooks claimed to be the victim and spoke to family members, saying they had been drugged, threatened with physical assault and taken to another state. A subsequent investigation revealed that the missing woman had never been abducted and was eventually found unharmed, ”the FBI mentioned.
The FBI has warned of similar ransom scams in earlier notices such as the virtual kidnapping, where a victim is told that a family member has been kidnapped.
The virtual aspect of the scam is to stage a scene either on the phone or via social networks that tries to convince the victim that his child has been kidnapped, FBI Albuquerque said the office.
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Time is running out in these scams because the criminals need the victim to react quickly out of fear before the scam is revealed. “They are forcing victims to pay a quick ransom before the regime collapses,” the FBI said in its newsletter.
The FBI encourages victims to contact a local law enforcement agency or local FBI office or to file an online complaint with the FBI. Internet Crime Complaints Center.