In this day and age, one has to pull out all the stops to keep safe and secure online. From identity theft to credit card fraud and many things in between, so-called ‘virtual kidnappings’ are the latest scary online craze that parents have to face.
Incidents of virtual or ‘online’ kidnappings are on the rise, while various law enforcement agencies struggle to come to grips with the phenomenon. Virtual kidnappings are not real abductions, but leave the family member or members being called in a panic with threats of murder or even torture. Virtual kidnappings take place when scammers uncover personal information about people; usually members of the same family.
These scammers locate email addresses and phone numbers via social media and other sources and use that information to attempt to extort money from innocent people. One of the main tricks these less than scrupulous scammers pull is something called “spoofing.” They spoof or copy the phone number of a person and use it as their caller ID to contact another family member. When the person picks up the phone, the scammer tells them they have their son, daughter, father, mother, even grandmother, and threatens to hurt of murder them unless a ransom is paid immediately.
The good news is that there are steps one can take to protect their family and keep them safe from the threat of virtual kidnappings in cheap and easy ways.
The first place to start when it comes to averting any kind of virtual kidnapping is by ensuring you have good quality, up-to-date internet security across all your devices. That also includes making sure you have a secure home network and no hackers in sight. Keep user names and passwords safe and never save them in your email inbox or drafts.
The next measure is to sit with your family (as opposed to emailing or texting them) and advise them of a secret ‘safe’ word that can be used in the event of a virtual kidnapping. If you ever receive a call from a would-be kidnapper, ask them to ask your child what the “secret word” is. This will put a stop to the scam before it gets any wind in its sails.
In many cases, the family member who is supposed to have been kidnapped will be at work, school, or even just sitting in their bedroom. If you ever get a call from someone claiming to have abducted a loved one, slow things down. Talk calmly with them, as you search rooms at home or call your kid from another phone. Most of the time, that will be the end of the scam as soon as they realize you’re onto them.
Scammers are nervous as they know they are cloning the number they’re calling from and are on thin ice from the get-go. If you suspect you’re being scammed, especially if little Jimmy is tucked up in bed, apply some pressure on the scammer and get them on the back foot. Tell them you’re “triangulating” or “tracing” their call and will be at their place just as soon as possible. It might not be the truth, but it will have the scammer scrambling to end the call just in case you are tracing them.
Report The Crime
Even if you’re tempted to just leave the matter alone, safe in the knowledge that it was nothing more than an ill-conceived scam, report the crime. Stealing identities, let alone threatening the life of someone, is a crime that carries some severe penalties if prosecuted. Contact your local police department, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or the Federal Trade Commission. They will offer advice on the next steps and will take their own steps to stop and apprehend the scammer.