If you received a call from someone claiming to be holding a son, daughter or grandson or granddaughter for ransom, the FBI is warning that it is most likely a scam.

Public Information Officer from the FBI office in Salt Lake City, Sandra Yi Barker has details.

“The FBI Salt Lake City specifically through our Helena resident agency office, we want to warn the public about an extortion scam called Virtual Kidnapping scam, which can take on several variations,” said Barker. “The scammers recently have been targeting some families in western Montana.”

Barker said several scam attempts have already taken place.

“We have recently received reports of victims getting calls from scammers claiming to have kidnapped their loved one and threatening to harm them unless a ransom is paid,” she said. “In these cases, no one is physically kidnapped, but it’s often traumatic for everyone involved. Many of these calls originate in Mexico.”

Barker provided two examples.

“In one recent incident that we’re aware of a scammer was able to convince a Kalispell man that his son was in danger and defrauded the victim out of thousands of dollars,” she said. “In another case, criminals targeted a woman whose daughter was reported missing out of Montana earlier this year. The scammers used fishing techniques and information from social media posts to try and convince the woman that the teen was in immediate danger and a ransom needed to be paid for her safe return. Fortunately, in this case, the woman did not pay the ransom.”

Barker said these scammers often use others to confirm the reality of the scam.

“These are extortion schemes of an individual or criminal organization who contacts the victim via telephone and demands payment for the return of a kidnapped family member or friend,” she said. “While no actual kidnap has taken place, the callers often use co- conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat. So obviously, these cases instill a sense of fear, panic and urgency and an effort to rush the victim into making a very hasty decision. Instructions usually require the ransom payment to be made immediately and typically by wire transfer.”

Anyone with information about these fraud schemes is encouraged to contact the Salt Lake City FBI at (801) 579-1400.

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