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  • Writer's pictureBurton Kelso, Tech Expert

How To Avoid Virtual Kidnapping Scams

Updated: May 27

How to Avoid Virtual Kidnapping Scams.

In our digital age, it's hard to keep track of all of the scams that are making their way around the internet. The latest online scan is Virtual kidnapping. This scam works by attempting to extort money from you by trying to convince you that one of your loved ones has been kidnapped and that you must pay a ransom to get them back safely. What's worse, AI is contributing to this latest wave of scams making it impossible to know if your loved one has been kidnapped. Kidnapping instances are rare in the US, but virtual kidnapping scams are on the rise. Use the following tips to protect yourself and your family members with some common sense actions.

How does Virtual Kidnapping Scams Work? With all of the data breaches over the years, crooks have access to endless amounts of your data that can help them connect the dots to who you are related to. Sometimes they will look at the social media accounts of people who are travelling internationally. Once they have this information, scammers can clone one of your friends or family member’s phone number to make you think the call is coming from their phone. To make the kidnapping scam seem more authentic, criminals use AI voice cloning to copy the voice of their loved ones from videos they have posted online or phone calls to their loved ones for the sole purpose of copying your voice. to make the call sound more believable.

What is the process of the scam?  When criminals call you with a voice kidnapping scam, it may start with what appears to be one of your loved ones crying or screaming. Crooks will then make threats of violence to your loved one and then follow up with some sort of ransom. Sometimes the fraudster will ask for money to be sent through Venmo but it could be any digital payment system, cryptocurrencies, wire transfer, and even gift cards because most of these payment forms is untraceable. One of the things that makes this scam successful is through social engineering, your adrenaline will kick in and you will be convinced that you are hearing the voice of your spouse, son, daughter, mom, or dad.

What should you do if you get a kidnapping scam call? If you are contacted by someone saying they have kidnapped your loved one, stay calm. Social Engineering in the form of fear and deception is how criminals can make you fall for these scams. As soon as you can, try to reach your loved one by calling them or having someone else call their phone or check their location with Find My Device. Ask to speak with your loved one that they claim to have kidnapped. If they pass you to another person or perhaps an AI bot, ask them a question that only your loved one would know the answer to. To protect themselves from scams like this, some families create code words that only family members would know.

The scammer might refuse to put the person on the phone but still claim to be holding them hostage. If so, ask the alleged kidnapper to describe your loved one’s appearance or clothing (if you know what they were wearing that day). Never give the criminals any personally identifying information, like your name, location, or your loved one’s name or information. If you suspect you have received a scam call, the FBI advises hanging up, but If you decide to remain on the line and another person is around, tell them to call 911 while you’re talking to the scammer. If you’re alone, discreetly call 911 from another phone, if possible, and let the 911 operator hear the call through your cellphone’s speaker. You can briefly put the scammer on mute to speak with the 911 operator, who may ask you for your loved one’s phone number.

How you can prevent and prepare for a kidnapping scam call. With any scams, you always need to prepare for the possibility that a crook may contact you with a scam call. Here are the things you need to do to keep safe.

  • Discuss virtual kidnapping with your family members and loved ones now and before any domestic or international travel.

  • Avoid posting your real-time location or travel plans on social media.

  • Share your mobile phone number with only close loved ones, even if you have a business. If you have to give out your number, set up a Google Voice or Whatsapp for public use.

  • Share your mobile phone location with loved ones using Google Maps, iCloud, or another legitimate tracking service.

  • Say nothing or as little as possible to spam callers so they can’t record a sample of your voice. All it takes is 8 seconds of audio to record a voice for voice cloning.

  • Avoid sharing personal details with people you don’t know. Scammers use this information to make their claims more convincing.

  • If possible, make a mental or written note of what your loved ones are wearing when they leave the house and where they are going.

  • Create a passphrase for your family. If you need to confirm an identity, you can ask the criminals what the passphrase is.

Hopefully, this will give you some ideas of how you can avoid falling victim to a virtual kidnapper. These tips should keep you and your family safe, but if you need support or have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me for help.

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