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Scams are as old as mankind and they continue to thrive and evolve. The Internet age has enabled scammers to operate without coming face to face with potential victims. What follows is information on a virtual kidnapping ransom scam that has targeted multiple NIH employees in recent weeks and tips to prevent it from happening to you.

Virtual Kidnapping Ransom Scam

 The scam typically begins with a phone call saying your family member is being held captive. The caller may allege your daughter has been kidnapped and you hear a female screaming in the background. Another variant of the fraud has a family member being held because he/she caused an auto accident, is injured and won't be allowed to go to the hospital until damages are paid. Callers will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to ensure a safe return of the family member. You may be ordered to stay on the line until money is wired. The caller may claim not to have received the money and may demand more payment. The following is taken directly from a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Press Release and explains how to avoid becoming a victim:

 

To avoid becoming a victim of this extortion scheme, look for the following possible indicators:

 

* Incoming calls come from an outside area code, sometimes from Puerto Rico with area codes (787), (939) and (856).
* Calls do not come from the alleged kidnapped victim's phone.
* Callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone.
* Callers prevent you from calling or locating the "kidnapped" victim.
* Ransom money is only accepted via wire transfer service.


If you receive a phone call from someone who demands payment of a ransom for a kidnapped victim, the following should be considered:

 

* Try to slow the situation down. Request to speak to the victim directly. Ask, "How do I know my loved one is okay?"

* If the callers don't let you speak to the victim, ask them to describe the victim or describe the vehicle the victim drives, if applicable.

* Listen carefully to the voice of the kidnapped victim if he/she speaks.

* Attempt to call, text, or contact the alleged victim via social media. Request that the victim call back from his or her cell phone.

* While staying on the line with the alleged kidnappers, try to call the alleged kidnap victim from another phone.

* To buy time, repeat the caller's request and tell them you are writing. down the demand, or tell the caller you need additional time to meet their demands.

* Don't directly challenge or argue with the caller. Keep your voice low and steady.

* Request the alleged kidnapper allow the victim to call you back from his/her cell phone.

* At the earliest opportunity, notify your local police department.

 

To help prevent this scam, check privacy settings on social media accounts and revisit the information you publicize on those accounts. The more information available to the public, the more information scammers can use to convince you into believing a scam is real.

 

If you have questions about this information or need to report a potential scam happening to you on the Bethesda campus, please contact the NIH Police at 301-496-2387. If after hours, call the Emergency Communications Center at 301-496-5685. If it happens while at home or not on the Bethesda campus, call 911.