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The Cyber-Kidnapping Scheme

Cyber-Kidnapping can take on many forms but extortion is always involved. Virtual kidnapping is not new by all means and has been around for at least two decades. This scheme tricks victims into paying a ransom for a loved one who believe is being threatened with violence or death.

Recently we have heard of the phone calls in which an unsuspecting parent hears their child's voice on the phone and believe them to be in imminent danger. This fear might be followed up by a ransom demand. Out of 100 calls it might work only once but unfortunately we know it has worked.

Now we find that foreign exchange students can be targeted as in the recent case of Kai Zhang a foreign exchange student. Zhang's parents were sent a photo that showed Zhang had been abducted. They received continuous threats until they posted ransom. There was no evidence that Zhang had been forcibly abducted from his host family's home.

Victim's are ordered to isolate themselves and usually monitored via facetime or other channels. This elaborate scheme gives the appearance that a loved one is being held captive. Parents believing that the suspects are actually with the victim are extorted and often times will provide the ransom. This is all done remotely.

If this is a concern law enforcement should be notified immediately. Stop any and all contact with the suspects and do not send any money.

Lee Barnard is a Certified Protection Professional accredited by the American Society for Industrial Security. He is a retired Law Enforcement Professional and owns a small threat assessment firm in Salt Lake City. He can be reached at

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