United States Federal investigators broke up a virtual kidnapping ring that was randomly targeting immigrants and telling them that loved ones were being held hostage.
The callers, based in Tijuana, Mexico, made up to 5,000 calls a day to numbers in the Washington DC area. That region was targeted due to its high number of Central American immigrants. The callers would tell the people that answered the phones that relatives were kidnapped, and that a ransom must be paid in order for the person to be released. The callers had no idea whether the victim actually had a loved one traveling, but simply played the odds that eventually someone will take the bait.
On average, the victims usually paid between $1,000 to $3,000. The money was sent to payment centers in San Diego and was then smuggled into Tijuana. Investigators state that this one group made at least $500,000 over six years.
In Latin America, cellphones are smuggled into prisons where prisoners are able to conduct these types of scams for their gang. Social media profiles are monitored in order to gain credible intelligence on their victims.
Couriers who pick up the money from payment centers are paid 10 percent of the ransom for their services.
Source: Associated Press, “APNewsBreak: 4 Charged in ‘Virtual Kidnappings’,” ABC News, November 9, 2013.