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Virtual Kidnappings

Security Message for U.S. Citizens:
Virtual Kidnappings
Date: March 7, 2012

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This security message is being sent to alert U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Mexico about a scam involving telephonic kidnapping threats. There have been numerous cases reported involving U.S. families living in Mexico as well as among the ex-pat community where family members in the U.S. have been called and told their loved one in Mexico has been kidnapped.  Due to the pervasiveness of these scams, it is important to be aware of how they work and what can be done to stop them.  

Usually the scam starts with the collection of information about the family.  Someone may call the home and pretend to be a salesman, friend, businessman, pastor, etc.  The caller will use the information collected during this call to convince the family that someone has actually been kidnapped when he calls back days or weeks later.  In addition to telephone calls, email and social media sites are used by the criminals to collect information on the victims. 

When the virtual kidnapping call is made, it often begins with a crying/ pleading voice immediately after the call is answered and before the “kidnapper” gets on the phone.  In this manner, they hope to confuse the family and get them to give additional important information.  The voice of the “victim” will usually be crying and/or hysterical – this makes it difficult to identify and increases the likelihood that you will believe it is in fact your loved one. 

Criminals will try to use fear, tact and timing against you.  For example, they plan their calls to coincide with times when it will be difficult to contact the child or another adult immediately (e.g. when child is either on their way to or from school).  All calls demand money for the release of the loved one and stipulate no police involvement.  Often times the callers will give statements to suggest surveillance such as: “we saw you at the school with your camioneta”.  Very vague but implying they have been watching your family and using fear and everyday routines against you to reinforce the threat of the kidnapping.  They will also impart a sense of great urgency.   For example, their initial demand maybe for some outrageous amount of money, but then they will “negotiate” and ask how much you have access to right now. 

In order to reduce the chances that you will be targeted and know how to respond if you are, please carefully review the tips and best practices we’ve listed below.

To reduce the likelihood of being targeted by virtual kidnappers, follow these best practices:

  • Never give out information over the phone and instruct all family members and domestic staff to do the same.
  • Limit the personal information that is posted on social media sites and use the privacy settings to limit the number of people who can see your information.
  • Do not accept “friend requests” on social media from people you don’t know well – remember a casual acquaintance may use his/her access to collect your information for nefarious purposes.

 

If you become the target of one of these calls, here are some important tips to remember:

  • If you definitely know the call is a hoax simply hang up.
  • Remain calm. Remember, the vast majority of these calls are hoaxes.  Whether done as a prank or an attempt to extort money from you, the perpetrators are attempting to exploit your fears. 
  • If you have caller ID, write down the number.
  • Do not tell the caller where you live or agree to any money transfer.  Never volunteer information.
  • Ask to speak to your child to confirm his/her identity.  This will foil the majority of these calls as the virtual kidnapper only has the upper hand as long as you believe that he/she really has your loved one.   Don’t be afraid to challenge them “what is my child’s name?”
  • If the caller refuses to let you speak with your child and stays on the line (many will hang up at the first sign of stubbornness), ask the caller to ask your child something that is known only to your family.  You can work out a secret word or phrase (e.g. favorite toy, pet name, first grade teacher’s name, etc.) to test for identifying a family member.
  • If the caller can answer the question, but does not let you speak with your child, this may be an “inside job” and they still may not have your loved one in their custody.

In the event you cannot locate your child after the caller has successfully answered the question, the caller actually puts your loved one on the line or you otherwise have reason to believe the kidnapping is real, it is very important that you attempt to do the following:

  • Contact the state PGJE office (equivalent to Attorney General’s office) of the Mexican state you are in (Jalisco:  33 3837 6000; Colima:  31 2312 7910; Aguascalientes:  44 9910 2800; Nayarit: 31 1129 6000).  Ask to speak with the group or officer that handles kidnappings.  Some Mexican states, such as Jalisco, have formal Anti-Kidnapping Units.
  • Contact the US Consulate in Guadalajara and ask to speak with the Legal Attache.  If the situation arises after normal business hours, ask to speak with the Duty Officer.
  • Listen and take notes of the demands, tone or accent of the caller, background noise, and any other important information that could assist the authorities.
  • Ask for a way to make contact with the caller.  If they refuse to answer, ask when they will call again.

Additional information about international financial scams is available on the State Department’s website.

The U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara is located at 175 Progreso Street, Col. Americana, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  The U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara’s telephone number is 011 52 33 3268 2100; the fax number is 011 52 33 3825 1951.  For after-hours emergencies, please call 011 52 33 3268 2145.

The U.S. Consular Agency in Puerto Vallarta is located at Paseo de los Cocoteros #85; Sur Paradise Plaza, Interior Local L-7, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, C.P. 63732.  The U.S. Consular Agency in Puerto Vallarta’s telephone numbers are 011 52 322 222 0069 & 011 52 322 223 3301; the fax number is 011 52 322 223 0074.  For after-hours emergencies, please call 011 52 33 3268 2145.