HELENA — It's a scam that pops up periodically, but it is back in Western Montana, and the FBI is concerned about it.
The FBI is warning about virtual kidnapping scams and there have been Western Montana families that have been targeted.
The FBI has received reports of victims getting calls from scammers claiming to have kidnapped a loved one and will harm them unless a ransom is paid.
In these schemes, no one is actually kidnapped, but they can still be traumatic. Many of these calls originate from Mexico.
In one recent case, a scammer convinced a Kalispell man that his son was in danger and defrauded him out of thousands of dollars.
In another case, criminals targeted a woman whose daughter was reported missing earlier this year. Scammers used phishing techniques and information from social media to try and get money from the mother. It didn't work in this case.
The scammers often use a telephone and represent themselves as members of a drug cartel of corrupt law enforcement.
To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:
- 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 receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:
- 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 ok?”
- 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.
Anyone with information about these fraud schemes is encouraged to contact the Salt Lake City FBI office at (801) 579-1400.