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FBI warns of spike in fake kidnapping extortion calls in Texas

SAN ANTONIO (Texas News Radio) — The FBI is warning about a spike in virtual kidnapping extortion calls in the Rio Grande Valley.

The bureau said law enforcement has seen a rise in the number of people saying they have fallen for this scam and have been defrauded out of large sums of money.  They believe more people have been victimized, but have not reported their cases to police.

The scheme typically involve a person or criminal organization who contacts a victim over the phone and demands money for the return of a kidnapped family member or friend.  These criminals often use co-conspirators to convince the victims the threat was legitimate.

However, that person had not really been kidnapped.

Regardless, the crooks usually require a ransom payment be made immediately, usually by wire transfer.

The FBI said these scammers go to great lengths to make the victim feel like they are being watched.  Most of these calls are actually coming from outside the United States.

The FBI has these tips to avoid becoming a victim in this scheme:

  • Calls are usually made from an outside area code
  • May involve multiple phone calls
  • Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone
  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone
  • Callers prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim
  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service

If you do get a call like this, the FBI has the following tips:

  • Stay Calm.
  • Try to slow the situation down.
  • Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.
  • Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak, and ask questions only they would know.
  • If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they
    drive, if applicable.
  • While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.
  • Attempt to text, or contact the victim via social media.
  • Attempt to physically locate the victim.
  • 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.

If you have questions about whether a call is legitimate or know anything about these scheming scammers, you are asked to contact your closest FBI office immediately.

The contact numbers for the FBI:

San Antonio (24 Hour): (210) 225-6741
Brownsville: (956) 546-6922
Del Rio: (830) 775-0076
Laredo: (956) 723-4021
McAllen: (956) 984-6300
Austin: (512) 345-1111
Waco: (254) 772-1627

You can also send tips to the FBI website.

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