Virtual Kidnapping Scams Impacting NJ Residents

According to the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, two New Jersey residents were recently targeted in a “virtual kidnapping” scam – a telephone extortion scheme in which an unidentified caller claims to be holding the victim’s loved one hostage and demands a ransom in exchange for his or her safe return. Criminals behind these schemes are using increasingly sophisticated tactics to manipulate their victims, performing extensive reconnaissance online, spoofing phone numbers, and even employing sound effects such as screaming or audio clips of the supposed hostage’s voice to craft convincing calls. They attempt to keep victims on the phone as long as possible until the money is wired to the criminal’s account, to prevent the victim from trying to contacting the hostage directly. Only after the payment is sent, do victims learn that they were scammed and that their loved ones were never in any danger. The NJCCIC recommends spreading awareness of this scam and informing friends and loved ones, especially members of the senior citizen community who can be particularly trusting of others and, therefore, susceptible to social engineering. Also, limit the amount of personal information you share publicly via social media and avoid posting your personal phone number in publicly accessible online forums. If you receive this type of call, gather as much information from the caller as possible and use another means, such as text message or email, to contact your loved one and check his or her whereabouts. Report incidents to your local police department as well as to the NJCCIC.