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Police warn about 'virtual kidnapping' telephone scam

Posted at 11:39 AM, Mar 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-07 17:50:35-05

Law enforcement officials are warning Marylanders about a new telephone scam known as “virtual kidnapping.”

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said the ransom scam involves a victim getting a call saying a family member has been abducted and will be returned safely only after money has been sent to the caller.

The caller has often researched the victim, and his or family member, gathering personal information including name, birth date and other details found online and through social media sites.

“These tactics are designed to increase the level of panic, and convince the potential victim to follow their directions,” the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said.

So far, in the ransom calls reported to date, victims have contacted their family member first instead of sending money to the caller. “No money has exchanged hands,” according to police.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office wants all residents to be cautious if a “virtual kidnapping” call comes through.

“Area residents are reminded to be suspicious of anyone requesting money through a phone call, texting, or email. This is especially true if the caller indicates a short period of time to comply,” officials said.

To avoid becoming a victim, here's what the FBI suggests to look out for:

  • Callers will go to great lengths to keep you on the phone.
  • Calls don’t come from the victim’s phone number.
  • Callers will try to keep you from contacting the “kidnapped” victim.
  • Multiple phone calls back-to-back.
  • Incoming calls from an outside area code.
  • Callers will demand ransom money paid via wire transfer, not in person.

If you receive a ransom call, here’s what you should do:

  • Slow the situation down. Ask to speak to the victim directly. For example, ask “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
  • Ask questions only the victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Don’t share information about you or your family.
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak.
  • Try to call, text, or contact the victim via social media. Ask that the victim call you back from his or her cell phone.
  • 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.

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