Virtual kidnapping scam tricks people into paying ransom for loved ones who are actually fine: FBI

ByRebecca Jarvis, GMA ABCNews logo
Friday, January 28, 2022
Virtual kidnapping scam: Woman speaks out after alleged scammer spoofed her mother's phone
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A new twist on the "virtual kidnapping" scam where people are tricked over the phone into paying ransom to free a loved one, who is actually perfectly fine.

There is a new twist on the "virtual kidnapping" scam where people are tricked over the phone into paying ransom to free a loved one, who is actually perfectly fine.

ABC's Rebecca Jarvis has more on how it works and what to do if you're a target.

It all began with a simple phone call Lesley Mumford said she received at work. She said the caller I.D. said it was her mom.

"When I picked it up, I heard a woman in distress - like crying and sounds like a scuffling. And then finally, a man came on the phone with a real deep voice and he said, 'Do you hear that? She needs your help,'" Mumford recalled.

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When the man came to her home to pick up the money, she handed over an empty envelope and police waiting inside jumped into action

She said the voice quickly becomes threatening, demanding money and said if she contacts the police he would kill her mother.

"He said, 'I swear on my baby's life, if you don't do everything I tell you, I'm going to kill your mom and then I'm going to kill myself.' I was terrified and I was just trying to keep her alive so that I could get to her," Mumford said.

Mumford said she transfers a total of $900 to the caller's account.

"He said, 'God bless you,'" she recalled. "I think he thanked me and then it went silent. And so I'm sitting there going, 'Mom? Hello? Mom, mom.' Well, and then hung up. So immediately I called my mom and she said, 'I'm at work, what's wrong?' And immediately I broke down."

It's another twist in the virtual kidnapping scam this time using spoofing, where the alleged crook makes it appear like you're receiving a call from a loved one's real phone number.

"They try to keep it at such a fever pitch that they'll convince the caller to pay, and it does happen and fortunately, it did in this case," said former FBI agent and ABC News contributor Brad Garret.

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Experts say to help determine if it's a scam: ask to speak to your loved one directly. If they refuse, ask them to describe your loved one.

Finally, while staying on the phone, attempt to contact that loved one via text, social media or through any other means. Most importantly, try to stay calm.

"Keep your wits about you. Ask them questions like, 'Put my mother on the phone so I know that this is a real situation,'" Garret. Said. "You try also to keep the caller on the telephone as long as possible. They know if you get to another phone or are able to send a text to your loved one, you're going to know they're not kidnaped."

Mumford filed reports with the FBI and the local police who told ABC News they are investigating. Mumford hopes her story will help prevent the next person from becoming a victim.

These scammers are convincing and this kind of experience can be very traumatizing. Being aware of this kind of scam and talking with your loved ones about it can make all the difference.