4 Winnipeggers targeted by virtual kidnapping scam

4 Winnipeggers targeted by virtual kidnapping scam

The virtual kidnapping scam keeps surfacing in Winnipeg, prompting more warnings from police after two incidents on Monday.

The scam, which has been around for a number of years but only recently was reported in the city, is an extortion scheme that tricks a victim into paying ransom to free a loved one.

The thing is, no one has been kidnapped, but the scam victims are threatened and coerced into believing it’s happened.

“The threats are often made over the phone from an unfamiliar or private number and sometimes involve a male or female purporting to be the kidnapped loved one during the call in an attempt to add credibility,” police said.

The Winnipeg Police Service received two reports of the fraud in early January. The victims wired funds to an out-of-country area code.

The other two incidents happened an hour apart on Monday. In one case, a victim was attempting to wire money to Mexico but was stopped by an employee at the post office, who was suspicious of the story, police said.

In the other instance, the target — a parent — was panicked for some time after being told their daughter had been kidnapped, police said. The parent couldn’t reach her for a while but when they finally did, the daughter was fine, though a bit confused since nothing had happened.

Police spokesman Const. Jay Murray said the fraudsters are cold-calling people and in many cases, they strike out.

“They might tell someone, ‘We have your daughter’ but the guy says ‘I don’t have a daughter’ and hangs up. Then they try another number,” Murray said.

Sometimes, as in the case where the parent couldn’t contact the daughter, there’s enough of a coincidence to give rise to concern, he said, noting another example was when a loved one was actually in Mexico on vacation.

To the person targeted by the scam, it seemed like it could have been real even though it wasn’t, Murray said. 

In all cases, the ransom demanded by the scammers has been less than $5,000.

An FBI website about virtual kidnapping says the scam has been around for two decades or more, but only recently started targeting English-speaking victims.

Previous versions attempted to extort Spanish speakers in the U.S.

The FBI website says people confronted with this scam should hang up immediately and try to contact their loved one. The agency advises against wiring the ransom, and says you should never attempt to deliver money in person. 

Winnipeg police are asking people targeted by the scam to call them at 204-986-6222 or report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Published at Tue, 06 Feb 2018 13:06:30 -0500