Las Vegas family targeted by virtual kidnapping scam

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) – It’s an alarming phone call that could cost you thousands.

More and more people are falling for “virtual kidnapping” scams – where someone calls saying a family member has been kidnapped and then tries to get you to pay a ransom. It may appear as a normal call from your loved one, but when you answer it, a stranger asks for money to release a family member.

A Las Vegas family tells 13 Action News how they almost fell victim to such a scam.

Rachel Allen says she was in the middle of a normal teaching day at UNLV when, out of nowhere, she received an urgent message: “Your mom thinks you’ve been kidnapped.

Her mother’s colleagues called her to let her know that her mother had received a call from a stranger, telling her that her daughter had been kidnapped.

Allen says it was one of the most terrifying times in his mother’s life.

“She said she kept hearing this girl screaming, like, ‘Mom, help me! Mom, help me!'” Allen said.

Allen says her mother heard a voice that sounded like her daughter’s as the scammers demanded thousands of dollars in ransom.

“She got very upset and would do anything to get me back,” Allen said.

The number was from a 702 area code. Allen says his mother was about to meet the scammer to give them the money when Allen called to let her know she was safe.

“I couldn’t imagine, if it was a situation where I was living in a different state, and how they would have reacted to coming into contact with me,” she said.

What happened to Allen’s mother could happen to anyone, says Aaron Rouse, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Las Vegas field office.

“These people are using a scam, basically because you posted on social media that you’re there, you’re traveling, you’re in another country,” Rouse said.

If you plan to travel, don’t tell people ahead of time, Rouse advised. You can also provide loved ones with a passphrase or code word in case of emergency, to verify that it is really you.

And, he says, never provide financial information over the phone.

“They’re contacting you from a phone, other than your loved one’s, that they can’t describe basic things about you or your loved one, like a description,” Rouse said.

To help determine if a call is a scam, Rouse said you should ask to speak to your loved one directly. If they say no, you should ask them to describe your loved one in detail. While asking these questions, try to contact the family member via text or social media.

It’s a lesson Allen and his family learned the hard way.

“What if this had been a real situation? she says. “I can’t imagine being on her shows and the distress she felt.”

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