FBI warns of spike in "virtual kidnapping" extortion calls in Rio Grande Valley

New scam targeting students
Posted at 4:55 PM, Sep 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-16 17:55:02-04

MCALLEN, TX — The Federal Bureau of Investigation San Antonio Division is warning the public about a recent spike in "virtual kidnapping" extortion calls in the Rio Grande Valley.

According to the McAllen Resident Agency Office, in the last several weeks, multiple law enforcement agencies have seen a rise in the number of victims reporting they have been scammed out of large sums of money.

The scams typically involve an individual or criminal organization who calls a victim and demands payment for the return of a "kidnapped" friend or family member. According to the FBI, while no actual kidnapping has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat.

The scammers will sometimes say they are members of a drug cartel or corrupt law enforcement and will provide specific instructions to ensure the safe return of the allegedly kidnapped person. The instructions usually involve demands of a ransom payment.

Callers will go to great lengths to prevent the victim from verifying the status and location of the "kidnapped" individual. They will also make their victim believe they are being watched and were personally targeted.

To avoid becoming a victim of the extortion scheme, the FBI is encouraging the public to look out for these indicators:

  • Calls are usually made from an outside area code
  • May involve multiple phone calls
  • Calls do not come from the kidnapped victim’s phone
  • Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone
  • Callers prevent you from calling or locating the “kidnapped” victim
  • Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service

If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, here's what you should do:

  • Stay calm.
  • Try to slow the situation down.
  • Avoid sharing information about you or your family during the call.
  • Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
  • Request the kidnapped victim call back from his/her cell phone
  • Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if they speak, and ask questions only they would know.
  • If they don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle they drive, if applicable.
  • While staying on the line with alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.
  • Attempt to text, or contact the victim via social media.
  • Attempt to physically locate the victim.
  • 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.

If you have any question about whether the call is an extortion scheme or a legitimate kidnapping, contact your nearest FBI office immediately. Anyone with information about these fraud schemes is also encouraged to contact the nearest FBI office:

  • San Antonio (24 Hour): (210) 225-6741
  • Brownsville: (956) 546-6922
  • Del Rio: (830) 775-0076
  • Laredo: (956) 723-4021
  • McAllen: (956) 984-6300
  • Austin: (512) 345-1111
  • Waco: (254) 772-1627