Fake kidnapping scam: Don’t fall for it! Here’s how to protect yourself

It’s not a new scam, but it’s resurfacing at a rapid rate and authorities are warning the public to be aware. If you have a loved one on vacation, away at school, or anywhere away from home, you may fall victim to the “virtual kidnapping scam,” but there are a number of tips provided by the FBI that can help you determine if you’ve been targeted.

The fake kidnapping scheme occurs when a party calls unsuspecting people and tells them that a loved one has been kidnapped. They threaten to kill the family member unless money is forked over; they generally demand high amounts such as $30,000 or more (though the exact amount can vary). Although it may seem ridiculous, some people have fallen victim to this predatory scam, only to find out later their loved one was safe and sound.

The callers generally use co-conspirators to help them pull the ruse off, the FBI said. For instance, a woman will cry and scream in the background while the caller tries to convince the victim that it’s their own family member crying. The FBI also wrote that the caller will try to invoke as much panic and fear as possible by stating they’re with a drug cartel or gang, while demanding the money be wire transferred within 20 minutes.

“Most schemes use various 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 payment be made immediately and typically by wire transfer.”

Q13 FOX reports that five people have already been targeted in Snohomish County, Washington. According to one of the victims, Amanda Vrtis, the call sounded so real that she almost fell for it.

“The person on the other line sounded like a young child, like my daughter, hysterically crying. Help mommy. He’s got me and I’m in a van and I can’t get out….”

Vrtis didn’t fall for the scam, but others may not end up so lucky. The FBI warns the public to ask themselves these questions should they get a call.

  • Did the number come from a different area code?
  • Did the call come from the alleged kidnapped person’s phone number?
  • Does the kidnappers try to keep you on the phone, and go to great lengths to do so?
  • Does the kidnapper insist that the money should be wired only?
  • Does the caller try to prevent you from contacting the person supposedly kidnapped?


Apparently, one of the fake kidnappers’ favorite and easiest way to get phone numbers is through social media. Many people don’t have their privacy settings adjusted to keep their information private. Make sure your privacy connections are secure across all social media platforms, and above all, don’t panic if you receive the call. The fake kidnappers are banking on nervous parents panicking and sending money immediately before they’ve even checked up on their loved ones.