South Florida

Virtual Kidnapping: What It is and How to Avoid Falling for This Dangerous Digital Trap

Although the virtual kidnapping scam is nothing new, law enforcement agencies say it's on the rise

Although the virtual kidnapping scam is nothing new, law enforcement agencies say it's on the rise.

"There has been an uptick, but unfortunately it's the world that we live in now. We live by technology and the more that we’re involved with technology the more that we're vulnerable," said Detective Mark Moretti of the Miramar Police Department.

During these phone scams, a victim is told his or her family member has been kidnapped and a ransom is demanded. According to the FBI, the perpetrators of these crimes are becoming more sophisticated. They are using social media and social engineering to dupe people into thinking their loved ones have been kidnapped.

Vivian Hernandez of Broward County almost fell victim to this terrifying scam.

On October 16th, while she was at work she received a call from an unknown international number. Seconds before she had missed her daughter’s phone call so she decided to answer the unknown call out of concern something was wrong with her daughter or her elderly parents.

"When I answered the call it was my daughter on the line and she said mommy I was just in an accident please help me mommy and she was crying," Hernandez said.

Moments later, a man got on the phone and told Hernandez her daughter had been kidnapped. He then demanded $5,000 to secure her daughter's life.

"He told me if you hang up the phone we're going to start cutting fingers," Hernandez said.

Hernandez was able to write a note to her co-worker with her daughter's phone number, however, all of the calls kept going to voicemail. Another frightening situation was that the Find My iPhone app showed Hernandez's daughter near Hernandez's office building.

"To this day we still don't have an answer as to whether they were able to hack her phone, or were they doing something with my phone to make it seem like she was around me," said Hernandez.

While Hernandez drove to the bank, her co-workers contacted police. Officers conducted a welfare check and found Hernandez’s daughter safe at home. Fortunately, Hernandez had not wired any money.

"As a parent, I don't think it’s something that you feel that is unreal. I think it's something at the moment that you say, 'I'd give my life for her.' I didn't care if I had to die for her."

This South Florida mother hopes her testimony will help prevent others from becoming victims of this terrifying scam.

"For me it's a different type of terrorism. They're terrorizing us. They're holding your emotions hostage and preying on what is real for you," said Hernandez.

If you receive a similar phone call that seems to be virtual kidnapping the FBI recommends the following:

  • In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone
  • Contact law enforcement
  • Attempt to contact the alleged victim via phone, text, or social media, and request that they call back from their cell phone
  • Do not disclose your loved one's name or provide any identifying information
  • Ask questions only the alleged kidnap victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Avoid sharing information about yourself or your family.
  • Do not agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person.
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