In an indictment unsealed Nov. 8, four people were charged with running what’s known as a “virtual kidnapping scheme”. In this case, alleged faux kidnappers placed calls to families of undocumented immigrants on their way to the US.
By phone, they scared families into believing their loved ones were kidnapped while in transit and needed to pay ransom money for their release. In reality, no one was ever kidnapped.
For years virtual kidnappings have been a daily occurrence in Latin America, most common in Mexico and Central America. But these incidents are rarely, if ever seen, here in the US, according to security and kidnapping negotiator Jose Gomez who spoke with Fusion’s Morning Show.
In this particular case, the snatch scammers placed calls from Tijuana, Mexico to households in the US, stating by phone that they had kidnapped one of their family members and demanded cash ransom.
According to law enforcement, these “virtual kidnappers” used 30 different San Diego phone numbers making 5,000 calls a day- and collected at least $500,000 in ransom payments since 2007. The crew allegedly targeted the families of immigrants in the Washington DC area, a hot spot for Central American immigrants who may be out of touch with their migrant relatives for long periods of time.
The virtual kidnapping crew of four is charged with wire fraud, accused of picking up ransom payments in San Diego before returning to their operating base in Tijuana, Mexico.
Back in October, the band Delorean was virtually kidnapped in Mexico City while attending the electronic music festival “Mutek”. They received a sudden call to their hotel room from people posing as Mexican police. They were told not to call relatives, switch hotels and withdraw cash from an ATM. It was nearly 30 hours before their whereabouts were known.
Kidnap expert Jose Gomez shares some practical tips to avoid a virtual kidnapping:
1) Maintain information confidential and personal
2) Keep detailed information about you and your loved ones out of social media
3) Know where your family is at all times and be able to contact them
4) Leave cell phone on vibrate- where they can contact you in case of emergency