The major difference for the victims is that in a real kidnapping someone is actually taken from someplace by force and held somewhere else until the ransom is paid. In a virtual kidnapping, loved ones of the victim are the ones who really suffer.

Virtual kidnapping scams have been around for at least 20 years, but some new developments in how virtual kidnappings are done has prompted the FBI to issue a warning.

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Emmerson Buie, Jr. Special Agent-In-Charge Of The FBI's Chicago Division, Says Virtual Kidnapping Scams Are Targeting Illinois Families (And The Rest Of The Country, Too)

And much of it starts with posts on social media. Here's how it works.

The FBI says virtual kidnappers scour the internet for targets by searching for social media posts by international travelers. The scammers then reach out to the target's family members claiming to have taken the person hostage. The person's family is then coerced into paying a ransom quickly to ensure their loved one is released.

FBI said the virtual kidnappers will request payments through a wire transfer, then heavily pressure family members to come up with money fast

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If There's One Positive Here, It's That The "Target," Or "Victim" Was Never Really In Physical Danger To Begin With

However, that positive is really small when you consider that by the time the family members realize they have been victimized, the ransom money is gone.

FBI.gov:

Virtual kidnappers can be very convincing, often representing themselves as members of drug cartels or corrupt law enforcement. Victims may hear screams in the background of a call, but virtual kidnappers have been known to use recordings to sound more realistic.

To avoid falling victim to a virtual kidnapping attempt, the FBI has these suggestions:

  • Never post news of upcoming travel dates and locations online
  • Discuss virtual kidnapping with family members prior to any travel
  • Have a “password” that family members can ask for in an emergency to confirm that a loved one is really in trouble
  • Be wary of providing financial information to strangers over the phone

FBI Chicago asks anyone who believes they are being targeted by a virtual kidnapping scam to call 911 immediately and ask that the FBI be notified.

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