A neighbor received a phone call that their son was kidnapped, and were told that if they do not pay the ransom, or if they contact the cops, their son will be delivered ‘in pieces’. The neighbor panicked. She heard the scream of a child in the background and was begging the kidnapper to not harm her son. She went into frenzy, and tried to negotiate a deal with the kidnappers.
But, there is a huge twist…
There were no kidnapped children, nor was this kidnapper real. Instead, this is a new scam that target parents. Scammers are utilizing the power of social engineering to manipulate parents into believing that their children are kidnapped. This new scamming method is called Virtual Kidnapping Scam.
How did the scammers know that my neighbors have children?
Unfortunately, through publicly shared images and information on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms. In essence, any image on Facebook that has this icon on it will expose it to the world.
Scammers of virtual kidnapping use the information from your social media sites to develop a persona to have a stronger grasp of your weaknesses and manipulate you into sharing personal information or pay money.
What is Social Engineering?
Social engineering is the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. Hackers and scammers use the power of social media to collect and identify personal information that can help them access personal bank accounts, black mail private details, and/or learn movement patterns for nefarious purposes.
If you’ve received a scam phone call before, your phone number may unfortunately be available to such scammers. And in return, all that the scammers and hackers need to do is fish for private information to generate a complete profile of the target in order to either scam them or manipulate them.
With the advent of VoIP technology and easy to purchase phone numbers, hackers and scammers can now easily mask their telephone line and make it difficult for law enforcement officers and government to track them.
More on Virtual Kidnapping:
- Washington Post Report on Virtual Kidnapping
- The Guardian on Virtual Kidnapping
- University of Oregon Virtual Kidnapping Alert
- Johnny Long (Non-Tech Hacking)
The following was the story shared on NextDoor by the neighbor. Names were changed to respect the privacy of the parents:
I (M) want to share a shocking and emotional incident that happened to me today March 20, 2017 around 3.20 PM.
I got a call on my cell phone from an unknown number. This is the time usually my son returns home from his middle school biking with his friends. I heard a man on the phone saying I have your kid and immediately I asked him “what happened? How is he doing”, thinking he must have probably got hurt or met with an accident.
Then I heard a boy crying loudly on the other end and saying that some guys have abducted him and was shouting “Help! Mom, help!”.
I totally panicked out. Then the guy took over the phone and said that he had my son and asked me to pay money, asked how much money I had in my bank account, etc. He said I must not inform the police or cops, otherwise, he will send pieces of my son’s body parts.
I ask him to put me on to my son so I could speak to him again. Since I was not listening and was deviating from the “money” topic, the guy was really mad and started talking very abusively. Meanwhile my husband went searching towards the school and had called 911 reporting the incident.
By then I was so panicked that I started running to my downstairs neighbor for help. He had also just got back with his kids who go to the same school. As I was climbing down the stairs, I saw my son come by. I was so relieved and started crying with joy. Immediately realizing the “unrealistic scary” situation, ended the call. Around 4 PM, we had 2 cops come home and he formally recorded the complaint.
When we google searched the phone number I had received +52 (686) 280-4688, we saw that a similar incident was logged on March 10th 2017 – https://sheriff.loudoun.gov/
Hoping that this situation does not happen to anyone and that the scammers can be traced and caught before they traumatize more innocent people.