This article by Alyssa Stoney, at the Arizona Republic reports, a Seattle man said he was scammed over the phone by someone who called him and said they had kidnapped his daughter, an ASU student, and he needed to send $10,000 or else they would shoot her.” Luis Harris, 60, “told The Arizona Republic the phone call was very ‘believable and intimidating,’” and “he said they put a screaming girl on the phone who he said ‘sounded like my daughter.’” Harris “said he told the man on the phone he could only send $2,000, which he sent in cash to an address in Nogales.” Harris “said he reported the call to local law enforcement in Washington state and the FBI,” which “has seen cases like this for years and warned the public about this scheme known as ‘virtual kidnapping.’
A Seattle man said he was scammed over the phone by someone who called him and said they had kidnapped his daughter, an ASU student, and he needed to send $10,000 or else they would shoot her.
Luis Harris, 60, told The Arizona Republic the phone call was very “believable and intimidating.” He said they put a screaming girl on the phone who he said “sounded like my daughter.”
Harris said he told the man on the phone he could only send $2,000, which he sent in cash to an address in Nogales. He said his son came home while he was on the phone, and the son called the daughter and found out she was safe at work. Harris had already sent the money when he realized it was a scam.
“It was super intimidating when they won’t let you hang up the phone,” Harris said. He said the man on the other line was very demanding and threatened to shoot his “daughter” in an hour if he did not send the money.
Harris said he then received a phone call from the same area code less than an hour later and text messages saying they had kidnapped his son. He did not answer the phone, as he knew it was a scam, and he responded to the messages saying he had reported them to Mexican law enforcement.
Harris said he reported the call to local law enforcement in Washington state and the FBI.
The FBI has seen cases like this for years and warned the public about this scheme known as “virtual kidnapping.”
In 2017, the FBI launched a nationwide campaign to inform the public about the “virtual kidnapping.” The FBI says sometimes these calls can be random, but at times victims can be targeted through information obtained on social media.
“Virtual kidnapping is when perpetrators, usually from another country, namely Mexico, are calling up subjects here in the United States and extorting them for large sums of money by supposedly threatening to kill or maim their family members,” said Phoenix FBI Special Agent Glenn Milnor in 2017.
In May, the FBI warned Arizona residents about a new twist to this scheme that included luring people over the Mexican border to save a kidnapped family member. The agency offered tips to people to avoid potential scams.
The ASU Police Department received reports of virtual kidnapping cases involving students in 2016. ASU police posted on Facebook ways to avoid the extortion scheme.
FBI Phoenix spokeswoman Jill McCabe told The Republic on Tuesday that the agency does not have exact statistics on the amount of virtual kidnapping incidents. The agency believes many incidents are not reported.
McCabe said the FBI urges anyone who may have experienced virtual kidnapping to report the incident to law enforcement.
“The more law enforcement knows about the scheme and/or any variants, the better equipped we will be to assist victims who are targeted by it in the future. Individuals involved in carrying out fraud schemes are constantly changing their methods to induce unsuspecting victims,” McCabe said.
She said the FBI hopes to raise awareness about this crime to equip people with the knowledge they need to avoid being victimized.