Orange County

Police warn of spike in virtual kidnapping scam calls

The virtual kidnapping scam has come to Chapel Hill.

Authorities in Chapel Hill said they have had multiple reports from residents who have received phone calls claiming a kidnapping and demanding ramson.

Police describe these incidents as virtual kidnappings. The perpetrators haven't kidnapped anyone. Instead, they use deceptions and threats to coerce a quick ransom payment. Many times they have information about a loved one that seems credible and would make a person believe this is a legitimate threat.

The scammers attempt to keep victims on the phone so they can’t verify their loved ones’ whereabouts or contact law enforcement. The callers are always in a hurry, and the ransom demand is usually a wire payment to Mexico of $2,000 or less. That amount falls below the legal restrictions for wiring payments across the border. Other times they have asked for payment on reloadable gift cards.

This type of scam as been around for at least two decades, according to an FBI press release. It said the scam gained popularity in California beginning in 2013. Initially, they were targeting Spanish speakers but now they’re indiscriminately calling hundreds of phone numbers until innocent people fell for the scheme. Since then it has spread across the nation.

Chapel Hill police are asking that if you receive a similar call, write down the number of the caller and then hang up and call your loved one to ensure they are safe. Report the scam to the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-968-2760.

Chapel Hill police also have received complaints about scams involving online shopping.

They remind people that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. They also say not to give personal information to an unknown source over the phone or online.

A tipoff of a scam, according to police, is when someone asks to pay off a debt in the form of a gift card from another store. Companies, courts and police agencies do not accept payments for services, people are reminded.

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews