What to Know
- Archdiocese of Washington, Prince William County, GMU all hit by scam.
- A virtual kidnapping is an extortion scheme, in which a criminal demands money from a victim by phone while pretending to hold a captive.
- The callers will attempt to keep victims on the line, urging speed and not allowing them to speak with anyone else.
Authorities are warning families about a virtual kidnapping scam where callers claim to have kidnapped a young relative and will only release them after receiving payment.
The scams are hitting different regions, including the Archdiocese of Washington, Prince William County, Virginia, police and George Mason University. The FBI is involved in the investigation, which has been going on for a few years in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area.
A virtual kidnapping is an extortion scheme, in which a criminal demands money from a victim by phone while pretending to hold captive a victim’s loved one. The callers threaten to harm or kill the victim’s loved one if a ransom isn’t immediately wired. Sometimes, screaming can be heard during the call to simulate the victim’s relative being harmed in some fashion.
Archdiocese officials said there have been two recent calls where a child was allegedly kidnapped. Both calls were false, with the children safe and accounted. A letter was sent out on Tuesday to the parents with students in the Catholic Schools System.
George Mason University confirmed they had two separate reports of virtual kidnapping in the last few days involving a student and an employee. They were also proven false, and the university sent out a warning to staff and students last week.
Prince William County posted a lengthy message on social media, warning residents in the area about the scam. They said the ransom demands vary in amount, and victims are told to wire the money to a third party in Puerto Rico. They said the alleged kidnappers appear to be Hispanic males and often speak with a Spanish accent.
The callers will attempt to keep victims on the line, urging speed and not allowing them to speak with anyone else. They may even have a bit of personal information, such as a school name, to make the incident seem real. Authorities urge people to report any contact about a potential kidnapping, real or virtual, to police immediately.
The News4 I-Team spoke with victims in Maryland in April about the virtual kidnapping scam and how the crime made its way into the area from New York and Texas.