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FBI warns Arizonans about phone scammers who fake kidnappings

(FBI Photo)

PHOENIX — The FBI is warning Arizonans about scammers who call people and try to convince them their loved ones have been kidnapped.

Special agent Lance Leising said at a press conference Friday that the scammers, many placing the calls from burner cellphones in Mexican prisons, try to get information and money from victims.

“A virtual kidnapping is just that — it’s virtual. There’s no kidnapping that actually takes place,” Leising said.

“But these scammers use deception and threats in order to be very convincing and try to convince the people they’re calling that family or a loved one is in danger.”

Leising said the callers will usually start by asking for a $2,000-5,000 wire transfer payment and will drop it to $500 or $1,000 if the caller refuses. Sometimes they ask for Walmart gift cards.

Sometimes the callers target people who actually have a relative or loved one visiting Mexico, using wallets or cellphones stolen from tourists to find potential targets.

“They’ll say … ‘I’ve got John. We’ve got him kidnapped down here. You’ve got to give us this money, you’ve got to give it to us in the next 20 minutes, or we’re going to kill him.'” Leising said.

He said they will often call on both landlines and cellphones and try to prevent people from calling law enforcement.

Leising said scammers sometimes call hotel rooms along the U.S.-Mexico border and tell the guests there are police or cartel assassins surrounding the building, then pressure them into divulging information about their family and work history.

Scammers then use that information to identify more people or businesses as targets.

“For the most part, these are easy scams to stop. Nobody is in danger; nobody is kidnapped,” Leising said.

“It’s just identifying that it is a virtual kidnapping, that it is a scam, and to end it right there.”

He said anyone who receives a call like this should ask to speak to the supposed kidnapping victim or contact that person to confirm they are OK, then report the call to law enforcement.

“We need to track these and find out where they’re coming from, and maybe we can put a stop to them,” he said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report. 

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