An Army family was recently the victim of a kidnapping scam, Army officials said, sparking the military service's criminal investigation office to issue some advice for what to do if that happens to you.
The scam revolves around a truly scary scenario: someone calls a parent and tells announces they've kidnapped their child.
"The scam occurs when an unsuspecting person receives a call and the caller immediately says, 'I've kidnapped your kid. Send money or the kid dies,' or some similar version of the call," according to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command's (CID) release.
An unidentified Army family recently received such a call, officials with the Computer Crime Investigation Unit said in the release. The parent immediately called the child's school and confirmed he or she was still safe in class.
"Often, victims of the virtual kidnapping fraud are chosen randomly. The person who answers the telephone is the victim, and no one has been kidnapped," CID officials said in the release. "Sometimes criminals target a block of telephone numbers in known affluent area codes. They dial sequential numbers until the call is answered by someone they can shock into believing that their child has been kidnaped. The caller's approach is forceful, well scripted and can be very convincing."
Worse yet, the fake kidnapper might sell their claim by making the call as scary as possible. Those who have gotten the call report hearing screaming in the background, desperate pleas for help, a crying child and other equally frightening sounds, the release said.
The scammer may also amp up the scam even more, using the child's name found on social media, or repeating it after the parent accidentally shared it earlier in the call.
"The caller is loud, abrasive, abrupt, and demanding. When the 'kidnapper' uses the child's name, it will cause the victim to panic and become more compliant," the release said.
But it's all fake.
So what should you do if a kidnapping scam happens to you? Here's CID's advice:
Kidnapping Scam: What to Do
If you receive a phone call from someone demanding ransom for an alleged kidnap victim, consider the following:
• In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
• If you engage the caller, don't confirm or acknowledge your loved one's name.
• Try to slow the interaction. Request to speak with your family member directly by saying "how do I know my loved one is OK?
• Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.
• Attempt to contact the "kidnapped" victim via phone, text, or social media, and request they call back from their own cell phone.
• To buy time, repeat the caller's requests and tell them you are writing down the demand or tell the caller you need time to get things moving.
• If you suspect a real kidnapping is taking place, immediately contact the nearest FBI office, CID office, or local law enforcement agency.
Kidnapping Scam: Don't be a victim
To avoid becoming a victim, look for these possible indicators:
• The call does not originate from the "kidnapped" person's phone.
• The caller goes to great lengths to keep you on the line so you can't make calls or verify their claims.
• Ransom money must be paid by wire, PayPal, Moneygram or similar service.
• Ransom amount quickly decreases if the parent resists.