Families of Missing Persons Receive Fake Ransom Demands

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The FBI has warned families of missing persons to be on their guard for extortion demands from cyber-criminals claiming to have abducted their loved ones.

The scammers typically scour social media posts to gather information about missing persons and their families. They’ll carry out open source research to find out more about the individual in order to make their claims more realistic.

The fraudsters will then contact those family members online or call/message them using third-party apps to disguise their phone number. Usually they’ll request between $5000 and $10,000 in ransom, the FBI claimed.

“Generally, offenders do not offer proof of life. However, in one instance, an accomplice made telephone calls to family members claiming to be the missing person. Offenders often claim the missing person is ill or injured, adding to the urgency of the situation and putting additional pressure on family members to pay the ransom,” the FBI warned.

“Since the onset of COVID-19 nationwide stay-at-home orders, law enforcement has received several reports of scammers targeting families who have posted on social media about their missing family member.”

The FBI claimed in its recent Public Service Announcement that such scams had increased over the past three years, with COVID-19 offering extortionists more opportunities to strike the vulnerable.

The Feds urged anyone who has been targeted in this way to contact their local law enforcement agency or FBI field office, file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and be sure to keep all records of communication with the individuals concerned.

There were nearly 77,000 cases of extortion recorded by the FBI last year, putting the category third top in terms of frequency, according to its Internet Crime Report 2020. Nearly $71 million was lost to such incidents over the period.

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