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Virtual Kidnapping Scam

The Houston Police Department, Kingwood Division, has had several calls for service recently regarding a frightening telephone scam commonly referred to as a “virtual kidnapping”.  While this is not a new scam it is one that has not been common in the Kingwood area.

In this scheme, an individual will call claiming to have kidnapped a family member.  While there has been no actual kidnapping, the caller will use an accomplice (usually female) to convince the victim that a family member or friend has been kidnapped.  This scenario could be as simple as ‘I have your daughter’ and the accomplice would shout in the background ‘help me mommy’ or ‘they have me mommy’.  At this point the caller (usually male) will threaten physical violence to the daughter or threaten the caller by saying you will never see her again.  Often in these types of scenarios, the victim will inadvertently say their real life loved one’s name.  The caller is quick to catch on.  From that point on, the caller will refer to the accomplice by that name.  

Another example of this scam is where a caller may attempt to convince the victim that their spouse (husband or wife), a child (son or daughter) or a friend had gotten into a car accident with a gang member.  The caller will pretend to be a friend or relative of the gang member and tell the victim that the family member is injured and needs to go to the hospital but that it won’t be allowed until there is payment for the damage done to the gang member’s car.  Still other variations of this “kidnapping” scam involve car accidents, drug debts, gang assaults, being detained in a foreign prison, or persons being smuggled across the border.  Victim’s telephone numbers appear to be dialed at random and the originating telephone number, through resources like reverse lookup, belong to no one and typically aren’t affiliated with a city or region.

The caller will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to insure the safe return of the “kidnapped” individual.  In some cases these instructions involve demands of a ransom payment.  Callers are ordered to stay on the telephone until the money is wired, often to a third party in Puerto Rico.  Most schemes, not just the “kidnapping” use a variety of techniques to instill a sense of fear, panic, and urgency in an effort to rush the victim into making a very hasty decision.  Instructions usually require the ransom be paid immediately and typically by wire transfer using companies such as Western Union.  The ransom amounts vary but are usually between $600 and $3000.  Once the payment is made, the “kidnappers” often claim the money was not received and the victim is told to wire additional money. The perpetrators of this scam are often Hispanic males.  While their Spanish accent may be noticeable, they typically have an excellent command of the English language. 


To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:

  • Incoming calls coming from an outside area code, sometimes from Puerto Rico with area codes (787), (939), (856) and (551).  These are just some of the area codes used.
  • Calls that do not come from the "kidnapped" victim's telephone.
  • If you've answered the telephone, a caller that goes to great lengths to keep you on the telephone.
  • If you've answered the telephone, a caller that works to keep you from calling or locating the "kidnapped victim".
  • If you've answered the telephone, the calleer will only accept ransom money that is accepted via wire transfer.

If you have answered a telephone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a “kidnapped” victim, consider the following strategies.

  • Try to slow the situation down.  Request to speak to the victim directly.  Ask, "How do I know my loved one is okay?"
  • If they don't allow you to speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive (if they drive a car).
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak.
  • Attempt to call, text or contact the victim via social media.  Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.
  • While staying on the line with the "kidnappers", try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another telephone.
  • 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.
  • Request the kidnapped victim call you back from his/her cell phone.
There have been reports of this type of scheme all over the United States.  There were a large number of these reports in the New York, NY area during January of this year (2015).  The Houston Police Department encourages the community to immediately contact the police if they encounter any calls that require a ransom for a kidnapping or a “Virtual Kidnapping”.  If you believe you are the victim of a REAL kidnapping, call 911 immediately.

For more information feel free to search the internet or search www.youtube.com for kidnapping telephone scam.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact HPD at 281-913-4522.

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