Info for families regarding "cyber kidnapping"

Recently throughout the region, we have been made aware of “cyber kidnapping” incidents involving schools in western Washington. Here in the Snohomish School District, we have not had such an incident, but we want our families to be aware, including tips to protect yourself and your family.

“Cyber kidnapping” is not actual, physical kidnapping, but a scam to extort money from victims/those impacted. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently released a bulletin warning of an increase in so-called “cyber kidnapping” cases nationwide.

During these incidents, the caller claims to have kidnapped a loved one and says they will hurt them if a ransom is not paid. These kidnappers have not actually kidnapped anyone. Instead, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart. They often demand payment through the purchase of gift cards or a wire transfer. The FBI states these calls typically target those whose first language is not English. The calls are usually from another area code and are not from the loved one’s phone. The callers go to great lengths to keep the person on the phone so that they cannot call their loved one and/or law enforcement.

The following is guidance from the FBI for those who find themselves in this situation:

  • Stay calm.
  • In most cases, the best course of action is to hang up the phone.
  • If you do engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
  • Do not share any details or personal information about yourself or your family.
  • Ask to speak to your loved one directly.
  • Ask questions of the caller that only the alleged victim would know, such as the name of a pet. Families are encouraged to have a “safe word” that is not easily discovered.
  • Use alternative methods to contact the loved one through phone, text, or social media, and request that they call you back from their cell phone.
  • Do not give out credit card information or agree to purchase gift cards. Don’t agree to pay a ransom, by wire or in person.
  • Report the incident, including the phone number to call came from, to law enforcement or call 911.

For additional information, please visit the FBI site on cyber kidnapping.