Sheriff's office warns of 'virtual kidnappings' by con artists

Published: Nov. 7, 2019 at 4:32 PM PST
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The Carson City Sheriff’s Office warned the public Thursday about an increase in “virtual kidnappings” in which con artists call people, convince them a family member was kidnapped, and demand a ransom.

The sheriff’s office responded to several of these calls in the last few weeks when the intended targets were still at the bank and had not sent the money to the con artists.

“The caller will use deception and threats of violence to convince the victim they are holding a family member hostage,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Then the caller will demand the victim to electronically pay funds for the release of the family member.”

The con artist will keep the target of the scam on the phone and will warn that going to the police will cause harm to the kidnapped person.

The perpetrators are hard to trace because of the ease of masking their phones and having fake phone numbers showing up on the calls, called spoofing. Most of the calls likely come from outside the United States.

“The phone number that displays on your phone will never be the real one, could be a number familiar to you if the caller has done enough research in advance, could indicate the phone number is from outside of the country, or could simply just be a random number,” the sheriff’s office said.

The con artists will have the target withdraw money and transfer it to them electronically.

When the sheriff’s office found the would-be targets in the bank, often they were still on the phone with the con artists.

“The victims were convinced the caller had their family member due to someone screaming/yelling/crying in the background,” the sheriff’s office reported. “The suspect also knew personal information including names of family members. In each incident deputies were able to calm the situation down, obtain information on the alleged kidnapped victim, and then make contact, verifying they were safe and not being held against their will.”

This is a variation of scams that have been around for a long time, the sheriff’s office said. Other versions include calls that a loved one was injured in accident and needed money or was arrested and need bail money. The sheriff’s office advises people not to send money and to try to reach the person who was supposedly injured or arrested.

The Carson City Sheriff's Office offers these tips:

  • 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 questions for which only the victim would know answers; have a family code word.
  • 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.

Additonal tips:

  • Avoid placing personal information on social media
  • Promptly update computers and mobile devices
  • Have strong passwords for websites and change them frequently
  • Use only trusted website and apps
  • Allow unknown telephone numbers to go to voicemail
  • Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device
Copyright KOLO-TV 2019

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