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FBI, RPD warn citizens of virtual kidnapping scam

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Roswell Police have been inundated with calls in recent weeks from residents claiming to have been victims of a popular new scam designed to extract money from people worried that a loved one is being held for ransom.

Last week alone, the Roswell Police Department received five calls from people who reported receiving what has become known as a “virtual kidnapping” call, Todd Wildermuth, public information officer with the Roswell Police Department, said Tuesday.

Virtual kidnapping is when a person receives a call from someone who informs them a family member has been abducted and demands a ransom for that person’s safe return.

Local police and the FBI began in March warning of the scam. The department posted about it again last week on its Facebook page.

The practice differs from traditional abductions because virtual kidnappers have not actually taken anyone. Instead, the ruse relies on a concerned person paying ransom before the scheme is uncovered.

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Virtual kidnappers in recent local cases are said to demonstrate a strong local knowledge of Roswell and possibly have some information about the person being targeted or that person’s family members, according to a post on the RPD Facebook page.

Roswell is not the only place where the practice has taken hold. The crime, though, is underreported, making it difficult to have accurate statistics on the frequency of calls, Frank Fisher, public information officer for the FBI’s Albuquerque Division said Tuesday.

The calls often come from Mexico and those who carry it out select their victims from blocks of phone numbers.

Two FBI agents were among the ranks of call recipients who were victims of the ruse, Fisher said.

Because of New Mexico’s large population of people with ties to Mexico, residents of the state are often targets for this scheme.

According to a press release about virtual kidnappings issued by the FBI in March, People who receive a call are urged not to pay any type of ransom. However, there are actions individuals can take to determine if a kidnapping is real:

• Attempt to contact the alleged victim through phone, text or social media and request that the alleged victim contact you back on their cellphone.

• Reach out to family members of the person said to have been abducted to find out if they, too, have been contacted.

If the recipient of a virtual kidnapping call must interact with the caller, the release states, there are several actions they should or should not take:

• Do not reveal your loved one’s name or provide any information that could identify them.

• Request to speak to the person allegedly abducted directly, by saying you want to know they have not been hurt. If the person who they say has been kidnapped is allowed to speak, pay attention to the individual’s voice — virtual kidnappers often use someone to pose as the kidnapping victim.

• Ask questions only the person allegedly kidnapped would know the answers to, such as the name of a pet.

• Do not disclose information about yourself or your family.

• Slow the situation down because the criminal knows they only have a short time to carry out the scheme before victims catch on or authorities are notified.

• To keep the caller on the phone, repeat the request and inform them you are writing down the demand or need more time.

• Do not agree to meet up with the virtual kidnapper.

To report a real kidnapping or a virtual kidnapping, people should contact the FBI’s Albuquerque Division at 505-889-1300 or the Roswell Police Department at 575-624-6770.

Tips about virtual kidnapping can also be reported to the FBI at tips.FBI.gov. The release states that tipsters who report information can remain anonymous.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

 

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