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Crime Trackers: FBI warns public about virtual kidnappings

TUCSON – The FBI says scammers are adding a new twist to virtual kidnappings.

That twist is when people receive calls from an individual claiming they have your loved one and demand money for their return.

Steven Patterson is the assistant special agent in charge of the Tucson office. He said the scammers are now convincing victims to go into Mexico to pay the money. He said it is only happening in southern Arizona.

In a joint news release by the FBI, there was a recent case where extortionists called hotel rooms near the border and told guests that the hotel is surrounded by armed enforcers. The scammers then convinced the victims to video-call them and take a screenshot.

The criminals will then send the photo to the victim’s family, convince them that their loved-one is kidnapped and ask them to pay a ransom.

However, virtual kidnapping scams are occurring all over the country.

Between 2013 and 2015, investigators tracked virtual kidnapping calls from Mexico. Almost all of the schemes originated from within Mexican prisons.

The FBI is working with local law enforcement agencies as well as their counterparts in Mexico to find who these scammers are.

The FBI said they are going public with this to alert the public of what is going on and help prevent them from falling victim to this scam.


Below are some tips the FBI has put together.

  • To avoid becoming a victim, look for these possible indicators:
  • Multiple successive 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 receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:
  • Stay calm
  • Slow the situation down
  • Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim
  • Attempt to call or determine the location of the “kidnapped” victim
  • Request to speak to the victim; ask for “proof of life”
  • Ask questions only the victim would know
  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone
  • Try to use another means of contacting the family member that has allegedly been kidnapped

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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