HCSO warns of ‘virtual kidnapping’ scam

In this age of constant connections through cell phones, social media and the like, the same lines of communication that keep us all in touch can facilitate those with bad intentions.

But even as things have changed, some stay the same, and primary among them is knowing that our loved ones are safe.

That’s why the latest scam to prompt a warning from the Hays County Sheriff’s Office hits so painfully close to home.

First reported locally on Next Door, the scam involves a ”virtual kidnaping” portrayed as real

The HCSO says they have taken “several” calls recently from grief-stricken fsmilies who have been victimized.

“It typically begins with a phone call saying your family member is being held captive. The caller may allege your daughter has been kidnapped and you hear a female screaming in the background. Another variant of the fraud has a family member being held because he/she caused an auto accident, is injured, and won’t be allowed to go to the hospital until damages are paid. Callers will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to ensure a safe return of the family member.,” the HCSO warns. “You may be ordered to stay on the line until the money is wired. The caller may claim not to have received the money and may demand more payment,” the agency said in a news release. 

The HCSO relayed tips from the FBI on what to do if you are contacted:

• Look for Incoming calls rom an outside area code, sometimes from Puerto Rico or Mexico with area codes such as (787), (939), and (856). (Calls do not come from the alleged 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, the following should be considered: 

• Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, “How do I know my loved one is OK?” 

•f the callers don’t let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle the victim drives, if applicable. 

• Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if he/she speaks.

Attempt to call, text, or contact the alleged victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone. * While staying on the line with the alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone. 

• To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand, or tell the caller you need additional time to meet their demands.

• Don’t directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady. 

• t the earliest opportunity, notify your local police department. To help prevent this scam, check privacy settings on social media accounts, and revisit the information you publicize on those accounts. 

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